TIFF Report: GLORY TO THE FILMMAKER Review
[Takeshi Kitano's Glory to the Filmmaker is coming soon to DVD in Japan with English subtitled and his Cannes commissioned Chacun Son Cinema short film included. I don't much care for the picture but people have told me I'm wrong before so if you think this is one of those times you can get the disc here.]
Making a film about yourself is always a dicey proposition. Making a film about indecisiveness is even more so. Making a film about yourself being indecisive is potentially a kiss of death. And, frankly, Japanese auteur Takeshi Kitano is old enough, wise enough, experienced enough and just plain good enough that he really should know better. And yet here he is with his second successive film about himself. Yes, the snake has truly swallowed its own tail here and while it seems a nicely seasoned dish in the early going somewhere around the mid point it starts to tickle the back of the throat and it gets a little hard not to gag. It's really time to move on now.
There's this film maker, see, a well regarded, critically acclaimed film maker who is a huge media celebrity for reasons outside of his film work in his home country, so much so that his every step is carefully scrutinized. And that film maker not so long ago made a pronouncement that he is now beginning to think may have been a mistake, proclaiming loudly that he would never again make the sort of film that he built his reputation on. Problem is that may be all he was really good at and he didn't really have any new direction plotted out and so now he's just kind of at a loss as to what to do next. This is the story not only of Takeshi Kitano the man but also Takeshi Kitano the character at the center of Takeshi Kitano the man's Glory to the Filmmaker.
And what does Kitano do to work his way out of this mess? Well, simple enough, he throws a whole bunch of stuff at the wall to see what sticks which in this case means looking at the popular trends of Japanese film and trying his hand at them all to see if he's any good at any of them. And so Kitano, with the help of his dummy-replacement and ubiquitous narrator, starts trying on different film styles. There's a nod to Ozu, a nod to 50's style nostalgia, a nod to the martial arts film, a try at science fiction and horror.
In the early going Glory to the Filmmaker is a smart, funny, exercise in style, a film that has a number of hidden layers to it. True, it demands that you be familiar with a good range of Japanese films to get the joke - you won't appreciate the black and white sequence without knowing Ozu's work, likewise the 50's piece contains direct nods to Takashi Yamazaki's Always and Yoichi Sai's Blood and Bones which Kitano starred in, and there is a direct recreation of a scene from recent actioner Shinobi - but if you've got the background to appreciate it these early segments work as parodies of Kitano himself, as parodies of the films he's poking at, and as a sly criticism of the Japanese industry's perpetual willingness to jump on whatever is hot and crank out cheap, inferior knock offs until the trend is sucked dry and buried deep in the ground. The first half of the picture is smart, funny, well paced and, though a little disposable and fluffy by his standards, a worthy entry into the Kitano canon. But then something weird happens.
The back half of the film simply abandons the format established from the outset. It just goes away. There is no indication as to why, the narrator simply disappears and we stay stuck in one never ending piece of nonsense that is as much fun as a helium balloon with a slow leak. It is limp and sagging and sinking towards the ground. On some level this is clearly Kitano tapping into his TV comedy roots and working some of that nonsensical energy in, as he did to better effect with Getting Any but here it seems entirely arbitrary, the energy is severely lacking and the jokes simply aren't funny. The things that worked in the first half are traded in for things that don't in the second and there is just no easy explanation as to why.
In many ways Glory to the Filmmaker reads like an attempt at a more populist spin on the themes that drove Takeshis' and while Glory is certainly more accessible in its approach - though still very odd by most standards - Takeshis' is a far smarter, far more thought out, and far more successful film. Takeshis' set out to deconstruct the relationship between an actual man and his media generated public persona, a worthwhile issue that Kitano handles well. Glory, on the other hand, feels like little more than a well funded, insider prank played by Kitano for his own amusement. Instead of making up awards for the man someone needs to tell him that he's naked.