is a Japanese filmmaker, comedian, actor, film editor, presenter, screenwriter, author, poet, painter, and one-time video game designer who has received critical acclaim, both in his native Japan and abroad, for his highly idiosyncratic cinematic work. With the exception of his works as a film director, he is known almost exclusively by the name Beat Takeshi (ビートたけし, Bīto Takeshi). Since April 2005, he has been a professor at the Graduate School of Visual Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts. Kitano owns his own film company, Office Kitano, which launched Tokyo Filmex in 2000.
Some of Kitano's earlier films are dramas about Yakuza gangsters or the police, referred to by critics as being highly deadpan to the point of near-stasis. He often uses long takes where nothing appears to be happening, or with edits that cut immediately to the aftermath of an event. Many of his films express a bleak or nihilistic philosophy, but they are also filled with a great deal of humor and affection for their characters. Kitano's films paradoxically seem to leave controversial impressions. While formally disguised as dark comedies or gangster movies, his films raise moral questions and provide food for thought.
The Japanese public knows him primarily as a TV host and comedian, and he is well remembered for the leading role of the comedy show Oretachi Hyōkin-zoku (1981–1989) and for the game show Takeshi's Castle (1986–1989). His portrayal of Zatōichi in the 2003 movie is his biggest domestic commercial success.
He hosts a weekly television program called Beat Takeshi's TV Tackle (ビートたけしのTVタックル), a kind of panel discussion among entertainers and politicians regarding controversial current events.
In the 1970s he formed a comic duo with his friend Kiyoshi Kaneko. They took on the stage names Beat Takeshi and Beat Kiyoshi; together referring to themselves as Two Beat (sometimes romanized as The Two Beats). This sort of duo stand-up comedy, known as manzai in Japan, usually features a great deal of high-speed back-and-forth banter between the two performers. In 1976, they performed on television for the first time and became an instant success, propelling their act onto the national stage. The reason for their popularity had much to do with Kitano's material, which was much more risqué than traditional manzai. The targets of his jokes were often the socially vulnerable, including the elderly, the handicapped, the poor, children, women, the ugly and the stupid. Complaints to the broadcaster led to censorship of some of Kitano's jokes and the editing of offensive dialogue. Kitano confirmed in a video interview that he was forbidden to access the NHK studios for five years for having exposed his body during a show when it was totally forbidden. Although Two Beat was one of the most successful acts of its kind during the late '70s and '80s, Kitano decided to go solo and the duo was dissolved. Some autobiographical elements relating to his manzai career can be found in his film Kids Return (1996).
Many of Kitano's routines involved him portraying a gangster or other harsh character, and his first major film role, Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (where he starred opposite Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Bowie) featured him cast as a tough (but sympathetic) POW camp sergeant during World War II. He also attracted attention for his playing a role of serial rapist-killer Kiyoshi Okubo in TV-drama.
After several other roles, mostly comedic, in 1989 he was cast in the lead for Violent Cop (Sono Otoko, Kyōbō ni Tsuki) as a sociopathic detective who responds to every situation with violence. When the original director (Kinji Fukasaku) fell ill, Kitano offered to step in, and rewrote the script heavily. The result was a financial and critical success in Japan, and the beginning of Kitano's career as a filmmaker.
Kitano's second film as director and first film as screenwriter, released in 1990, was Boiling Point (3-4X Jūgatsu). Masahiko Ono plays the lead role of a young man whose baseball coach is threatened by a local yakuza. He and a friend travel to Okinawa to purchase guns so they can get revenge, but along the way they are befriended by a psychotic gangster played by Kitano, who has his own revenge to plot. With complete control of the script and direction, Kitano uses this film to cement his style: shocking violence, bizarre black humor and stoically shot 'still' scenes. In spite of this, the film was considered a failure and did not recover its production costs upon initial release.
Kitano's third film, A Scene at the Sea (Ano Natsu, Ichiban Shizukana Umi), was released in 1991. It featured no gangsters, but instead a deaf garbage collector who is determined to learn how to surf after discovering a broken surfboard while working. A young girl (also deaf) follows his progress and is quick to assist him wherever possible. Kitano's more delicate, romantic side came to the fore here, along with his trademark deadpan approach.
Foreign audiences (that would outnumber his domestic audience in the coming years) began to take notice of Kitano after the 1993 release of Sonatine. Kitano plays a Tokyo yakuza who is sent by his boss to Okinawa to help end a gang war there. He is tired of gangster life, and when he finds out the whole mission is a ruse, he welcomes what comes with open arms.
The 1995 release of Getting Any? (Minna Yatteruka!) showed Kitano returning to his comedic roots. This Airplane!-like assemblage of comedic scenes, all centering loosely around a Walter Mitty-type character trying to have sex in a car, met with little acclaim in Japan. Much of the film satirizes popular Japanese culture, such as Ultraman or Godzilla and even the Zatoichi character that Kitano himself would go on to play eight years later.
In August 1994, Kitano was involved in a motorcycle accident and suffered injuries that caused the paralysis of one side of his body, and required extensive surgery to regain the use of his facial muscles. (The severity of his injuries was apparently due to him not fastening the chin strap on his helmet.) Kitano later stated that the "accident" was actually a suicide attempt. Some speculated that the depression leading to the suicide attempt may explain the nihilistic atmosphere of his early films. Many in the foreign press speculated that he might never be able to work again. Kitano put any such thoughts to rest by making Kids Return in 1996, soon after his recovery. At the time it became his most successful film yet in his native Japan.
After his motorcycle "accident", Kitano took up painting. His bright, simplified style is reminiscent of Belarusian painter Marc Chagall. His paintings have been published in books, featured in gallery exhibitions, and adorn the covers of many of the soundtrack albums for his films. His paintings were featured prominently in his most critically acclaimed film, 1997's HANA-BI (released as Fireworks in North America). Although for years already Kitano's largest audience had been the foreign arthouse crowd, HANA-BI cemented his status internationally as one of Japan's foremost modern filmmakers.
Kikujiro (Kikujirō no Natsu), released in 1999, featured Kitano as a ne'er-do-well crook who winds up paired up with a young boy looking for his mother, and goes on a series of misadventures with him. Brother (2001), shot in Los Angeles, had Kitano as a deposed Tokyo yakuza setting up a drug empire in L.A. with the aid of a local gangster played by Omar Epps. Despite a large buzz around Kitano's first English language film, the film was met with tepid response in the US and abroad. Dolls (2002) had Kitano directing but not starring in a film with three different stories about undying love; it met with unfavorable critical and public reception.
Between the disappointing response to Brother and Dolls, Kitano became a punching bag for the press in the United States, who wondered if he had lost his ability to make a good film. Criticism was less severe in Europe and Asia though many commentators were not as lavish with their praise as they had been with previous Kitano films. 2003's Zatōichi, in which Kitano directed and starred, silenced many of these dissenters. With a new take on the character from Shintaro Katsu's long-running film and TV series, Zatōichi was Kitano's biggest box office success in Japan, did quite well in limited release across the world, and won countless awards at home and abroad, including the Silver Lion award at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.
Kitano's latest film, Takeshis' was released in Japan in November 2005 with an unusual tagline, reading "500% Kitano - Nothing to Add!" in English. Kitano also stars regularly in other films. Among his most significant roles were Nagisa Oshima's 1999 film Taboo (Gohatto), where he played Captain Hijikata Toshizo of the Shinsengumi; and Kitano in Battle Royale (2000), a controversial Japanese blockbuster set in a bleak dystopian future where a group of teenagers are randomly selected each year to kill each other on a deserted island. He also appeared in the film adaptation of William Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic, although his on-screen time was greatly reduced for the American cut of the film.
Kitano used to be a regular collaborator with composer Joe Hisaishi, who has created scores for many of his films. However, during the making of Dolls they had an argument, apparently over which tunes to include on the film's soundtrack, and have not worked together since.
Kitano married in 1978. She is a former manzai comedian. Together they have a son, and a daughter: . Shoko is a former singer and actress. She made her debut as a singer (produced by X Japan co-founder Yoshiki Hayashi) and also appeared as Shoko Matsuda (Matsuda was her mother's maiden name) in her father's film HANA-BI in 1997.
He has also become a popular television host. Takeshi's Castle, a game show hosted in the 1980s by Kitano featuring slapstick-style physical contests, has gained cult popularity in the United States (where portions are broadcast on Spike TV as MXC, formerly Most Extreme Elimination Challenge) and in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom where it was given a voiceover by Craig Charles, though these feature very little of Takeshi Kitano as they are heavily edited. More recently, he hosted Koko ga hen da yo, nihonjin (roughly meaning "People of Japan, This Doesn't Make Sense!"), a talk show where a large panel of Japanese-speaking foreigners from around the world debate current issues in Japanese society. Another of his shows is Sekai Marumie ("The World Exposed"), a weekly collection of various interesting video clips from around the world, often focusing on the weird aspects of other countries, and with a regular section on daring rescues, taken from the American program Rescue 911. On this show, he plays the child-like idiot, insulting the guests, and usually appears with kigurumi and wearing strange costumes during the show.
The now internationally acclaimed Takeshi Kitano was awarded an honorary Bachelor of Science in engineering by Meiji University on September 7, 2004, 34 years after he dropped out to pursue his career in entertainment.