Warsaw 2013 Review: The Boys Are Back In KIDS RETURN: THE REUNION, A Commercialized Follow-Up To A Kitano Classic

Patryk Czekaj, Contributing Writer
Kitano Takeshi, a born comedian and devoted creator of many downright gritty cop thrillers in which he also starred, stunned the whole world in 1996 when he made Kids Return, a picture that showed a completely fresh and unpredictable side of this enormously versatile artist, and was also a sort of turning point in his career as a director. The film's offbeat atmosphere, wry sense of humor, attractive script and hilarious, lovable characters quickly made it an audience favorite both in Japan and overseas. Nowadays, Kids Return might be easily called a classic, a comedy that many refer to as Kitano's most personal and most imaginative picture in his truly impressive cinematic portfolio.

Shimizu Hiroshi, who attended this year's Warsaw Film Festival in order to promote his newest film, is Kitano's long-time collaborator and assistant on films such as Kids Return or Fireworks. During the Q&A session he said that an idea of a sequel was born shortly after they did a couple of pictures together. Though Kitano himself wasn't planning on directing Kids Return: The Reunion he immediately thought that Shimizu would be a perfect man to do a follow-up to a most beloved story of two up-to-no-good high school drop-outs, whose laid back attitude towards life leads them onto a new path to self-made glory, soon before the Earth comes calling back. The plot was so entertaining and so inviting that many fans were eager to see what the boys will be up to next. To be perfectly honest, if one looks at it long enough and from an unbiased perspective, it's not hard to realize that the ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel, even a pretty decent one. Though I personally have to admit that, being a big fan of Kitano's work, I went to the screening still thinking that no one, even such adequate person as Shimizu, should ever again touch this picture.

In The Reunion we find Shinji (Hiraoka Yuta) and Masaru (Miura Takahiro) where we left them 17 year ago, still trying to make it big. Though right at the beginning Shinji quits boxing and becomes a road worker, it's inevitable that this rather predictable storyline will eventually get him back on the same track again. This short subplot about him working on a street in Tokyo was designed just so he can run across Masaru, now a frustrated yakuza with control issues. While the boys drink and catch up with their life stories they understand how far away from each other they really are. There is no chemistry between the two former best friends, and while the plot 
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visualizes them bonding all over again the on-screen bromance is far from satisfying mostly due to a visible oversight in formation of the roles. Admittedly, the times are different and the boys might seem a bit frustrated with their overall situation, still it's hard to watch how dispassionate and rather facile their performances actually are. Masaru's emotionless attitude towards everything really makes him a character that's on the verge of being an imitation of the Masaru that we got to know and love in the first film.

While Shinji yet again climbs the ladder of success, Masaru gradually gets into more trouble and is bound for disaster. That's the point when one comprehends the more commercial approach to the story, which escalates to the point of a typical Hollywood drama in its third act. Shinji is starting to loose vision in one eye but bravely decides to continue fighting at the same time when Masaru, left without a dime in his pocket, snaps, commits a crime and gets stabbed but still makes it to his friend's championship match. What follows is a completely unsurprising ending to a very modest but deeply sentimental flick.

Fortunately, the story is enjoyable in the sense that it doesn't feel overlong and has some pretty pleasurable moments, most of them taking place in a café owned by Shinji's beautiful and warmhearted girlfriend Manami (Kurashina Kana), who's probably the most authentic character in the whole film. There are some laughable gags also and a couple of perfectly choreographed boxing scenes, all the more impressive due to the fact that the main actor trained only for three months. While I wasn't fully satisfied with the final result I must admit that the shot of the boys riding a bike together again made me feel warm deep in my heart and eventually left a rather pleasant memory of The Reunion.
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