“Kikujiro” is a failure of a movie, an utter mess that manages to be irritating and offensive IN ADDITION to being the worst thing a film can be: deadly boring.
There’s this young boy, Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi), a lugubrious, puffy-faced lad who lives with his grandmother because his dad is dead and his mom is off working somewhere to support him. School gets out for the summer, and his one friend takes off with his family, leaving poor sullen Masao with nothing to do but sit around and be sullen.
Desperate for entertainment, he takes whatever money he can find and heads out for where his mom supposedly is. His grandmother’s friends, Kikujiro (“Beat” Takeshi) and his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) spot him, and the wife (we never learn her name; we don’t even learn Kikujiro’s until the last two minutes of the movie) sends Kikujiro with the boy.
Clearly, Mrs. Kikujiro is a few grains short of a rice bowl. She of all people should know how irresponsible, immature, grumpy and stupid her husband is, yet she leaves a young boy in his charge for a multi-day journey. Also, she sends them off together and THEN tells the grandmother, rather than asking her permission first.
The first thing Kikujiro does is call the boy a brat a bunch of times. I believe this is supposed to be amusing and endearing. It doesn’t come across as abusive or mean-spirited; however, it’s the furthest thing from funny, too.
The second thing they do is go to the racetrack and lose all their traveling money. Now they have to steal a cab, which they wreck, so they have to hitchhike, which keeps backfiring because Kikujiro is such a jerk to everyone. (Again, I believe he’s meant to be a “funny” jerk.)
More shenanigans: To get people to stop and give them a ride, Kikujiro has Masao put nails in the road to create flat tires. After that results in a possible homicide (HA HA!), Kikujiro has Masao look all sad and forlorn (more so than usual) and ask people who have pulled into a rest area to please give him a ride.
If Kikujiro’s exploitation of the boy is mildly unsettling, try this on for size. While the stupid grown-up is drinking in a bar, Masao gets whisked away by a child molester. We catch up with them in a public restroom, where the man is forcibly trying to pull down the boy’s underpants. Kikujiro arrives in the nick of time and punches the guy out. Then, after dismissing Masao, he tries to get the pervert to do to him whatever he was planning to do to Masao — to teach him a lesson, you know — which the man refuses to do.
Have you got that? The movie has the boy almost get molested, and then PLAYS IT FOR LAUGHS! Worse, the issue is not addressed after that, except in a brief nightmare the boy has. You don’t just throw in a near-molestation unreservedly. You decide whether it’s really an integral part of the film, and if it is, you make sure you deal with it adequately. Poor Masao is given no sympathy or support. He’s just an orphan boy trying to find his mom, being guided around by a maddeningly cloying middle-aged man in arrested development. Then he has a seriously traumatic experience and no one gives it a second thought.
If “Beat” Takeshi were here right now, I would “beat” him over the head with something. He reminds me of the generic actors who always appear in “Godzilla” movies whose only function is to be comic relief, look wide-eyed at the monster, and then say something lame as they run away, like a Japanese Shemp Howard. Would you want to watch an entire movie with one of those guys as the main character? Of course not.
When the film isn’t treating us to lengthy shots of the man and boy sitting at bus stops or standing on the side of the road, its making us watch Kikujiro do dumb things that are supposed to be funny, like pretending to be blind to arouse sympathy from passing motorists. Humor is clearly the intention here, but the musical score is all strings and pianos, like it’s “Chariots of Fire” or something.
They run into several characters along their journey, none of whom help them. In the end, Kikijuro has apparently been softened and made to be more of a nice guy. Darned if I know how that happened, though. I don’t think Masao says more than 50 words to him the whole movie.
Shall we talk logic? The actual fate and/or identity of Masao’s mom is not fully explained. It would appear Grandma omitted some details, but it’s not clear. Masao and Kikujiro don’t have enough money to take a bus back to wherever they live, but they seem to have enough to buy food (apparently; it’s never shown, even though they’re gone for several days) and play carnival games. Kikujiro gets what he wants from people by ordering them around, and they always listen for absolutely no discernible reason whatsoever.
It’s labored, pointless and just plain bad. Where’s Godzilla when you need him?
F (; )