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Takeshi Kitano is now known all over the world as a; renowned filmmaker, comedian, singer, actor, film editor, television presenter, screenwriter, author, poet and painter. A true renaissance man, but although already a legendary comedian in Japan during the 70s and 80s, his international career as a filmmaker began when veteran Yakuza film director Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Battle Royale) stepped down from directing Sono otoko, kyōbō ni tsuki after falling ill, the producers suggested Takeshi Kitano (the lead star) take the director’s position as a joke. Kitano who was Japan’s biggest comedian took the role seriously and completely rewrote Hisashi Nozawa’s script which was originally supposed to be a cop comedy into an ultraviolent gangster film about a sociopathic police officer.   Released in 1989, the film didn’t do as well as expected and was only a moderate financial success mainly due to the fact that the Japanese audiences who were used to Kitano as a comedian and prankster couldn’t take him seriously as a dramatic actor. But Sono otoko, kyōbō ni tsuki (Violent Cop as it is known as in America) marked the beginning of his critically acclaimed career as a filmmaker.

Sonatinehis fourth film as writer/director is about Murakawa (Kitano) a yakuza who is sent to Okinawa along with his gang to settle a dispute between two rival clans, he soon realises that it was a set up by his Boss and decides to hide out in a nearby beach house and wait for the trouble to blow over. It was a commercial failure in Japan as Kitano was still only perceived as a comedian and the audiences were not ready to accept him as a serious gangster noir character. However, European audiences were not aware of Kitano’s status as a legendary comic so the film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival where Kitano’s deadpan performance was being compared to the characters in Jean-Pierre Melville films. According to Jean-Pierre Dionnet a French writer and cinephile, someone convinced Alain Delon to watch Sonatine arguing that Kitano was a fan of La Samourai but he disliked the film and Kitano’s performance, stating that ‘he only has three facial expressions’. In 1995 however, Sonatine entered the Festival du Film Policier de Cognac in France where it received critical acclaim. The film was released in American theatres in 1998 by Miramax and in 2000 Quentin Tarantino released a subtitled video edition as part of his ‘Rolling Thunder Pictures’ collection which also featured Chungking Express directed by acclaimed Hong-Kong art-house filmmaker Wong-Kar Wai as Tarantino wanted to introduce contemporary Asian cinema to Western audiences .

In 1997 Hana-Bi, a film about a police detective (Kitano) who quits the force to take care of his terminally ill wife, was an unexpected international success. The Film won the Golden Lion at the prestigious Venice Film Festival and numerous other awards and nominations worldwide. The universal acclaim of Hana-Bi established Kitano as one of the top Japanese filmmakers of his time. After many art-house hits like Kikujiro, Dolls and Zatoichi, Kitano was seen a one of the world’s most prominent living filmmakers. In 2003 he was listed as being one of ’The World’s 40 Best Directors’ in a poll by a panel of critics in The Guardian alongside some of the most influential filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson. In 2010 he was named a Commander of the Order of the Arts and Letters of France, whose recipients include the likes of T.S. Eliot, Bob Dylan and Clint Eastwood. Nagaharu Yodagawa, Japan’s most famous movie critic referred to Takeshi Kitano as ‘the true successor to Akira Kurosawa’. At the age of 65, he still continues to write, direct and act (among other things).

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