Watched this last week with Patrick on BBC4.
He writes, directs and stars here, and is the only director in the world that you wish would do so more often. Kikujiro is a remix of one of Takeshi's earlier movies, 3-4x juugatsu (1990). A decade on and his road movie has mellowed considerably, while the events are equally as devastating to the main protagonist, in this case an 8 year old boy called Masao (played by an excellently understated Yusuke Sekiguchi).
Masao is well provided for by his hard working grandma, but lonely, and when school breaks up for the summer and other children are being taken on holiday by their more conventional families, his isolation hits him hard. His father is dead and him mother is far away, according to grandma, working hard so that they can afford to raise him.
Masao discovers a photograph of his mother and an address while looking for the family's signature stamp, and sets out to find her.
He runs in to trouble pretty quickly and is rescued by an old neighbor, Kayoko Kishimoto playing Kikujiro's wife. Kishimoto is really outstanding in this and steals the couple of short scenes she's given - I really wanted to see more of her and her collecion of animal print tee-shirts. Bizarrely, his wife sends her criminally neglectful and socially retarded husband (Kitano) off to chaperone the boy.
The film gets most of it's poignancy from the painful limitations of the characters. Kikujiro lack of empathy with anyone for most of the movie is excruciating and hilarious in turn. His inability to care for anyone except himself, or about the consequences of his actions, which is finally revealed as a defense to prevent him for having to focus for any length of time on his own feelings, makes his character twitchy and tourettes-like. Masao is similarly constrained by his ability to connect with and comprehend what is going on in the world around him because of his age.
The film has some great characters and loads of memorable scenes, particularly funny ones include the octopus man and the watermelon game.
Kitano fans will notice his use of drumming and dance, which he used particularly effectively in the final scenes of Zatôichi. Expect a musical any day now.