A look back at this day in film history
January 18
Takeshi Kitano January 18, 1947
Takeshi Kitano born

On this day in 1947, Takeshi Kitano was born in Tokyo. Or, maybe one should say that Takeshi Kitano was born for the first time, for identity is a strange thing in the world of Kitano. Growing up, young Takeshi excelled at art and mathematics, and was on course to become an engineer when he was turfed out of university for bad behavior. Distanced from academia, he started hanging out with the “futen” (a Japanese word for “freaks” or “beatniks”) and frequented the comedy club/strip club where he met the like-minded Kiyoshi Kaneko. With Kaneko, he formed the comedy duo “The Two Beats,” known by the names Beat Takeshi and Beat Kiyoshi, who became very famous on Japanese TV for their crazy, slapstick antics. Though the pair had straight roles in Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence early in their careers, they were seen as purely comic figures. As a result, it was a great surprise when Kitano became a serious actor and director in 1989 with the yakuza thriller Violent Cop. (Kitano took over as director as well as star when the original helmer took ill.) Since then, Kitano has directed under the name “Takeshi Kitano” and acted in those same films as “Beat Takeshi,” creating a series of smart, sophisticated yakuza movies such as Boiling Point (1990), Sonatine (1993) and Fireworks (1997). It was only when the latter movie won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival that the Japanese populace accepted that Kitano was to be taken seriously as filmmaker. In attempt to address his identity issues on celluloid, in 2005 he made Takeshis, a comedy in which he played both the star actor Beat Takeshi and the struggling thesp whose path he crosses, Kitano. The film is indicative of the increasing range of Kitano’s work, while outside of cinema he has proved himself a renaissance man by excelling also as a novelist, painter, poet, TV host, journalist and video game designer.

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