Akiresu to Kame Review

Akiresu to Kame (Achilles And The Tortoise) is the third and final part in a thematic trilogy of films by Takeshi Kitano, the other two being Takeshis’ and Kantoku Banzai! (Glory to the Filmmaker!). Although these films have very little in common in structure, plot or characters they all represent a self-reflexive look by Kitano at what constitutes art and what it means to be an artist. In the first film Kitano explored the many facets of his character and artistic persona, the second contemplated the various styles of films that he could make and whether he should make them.The third explores ‘the artist’ and the ‘art world’ that the artist often inhabits.

Akiresu to Kame is the story of Machisu Kuramochi and his struggle to become a famous and respected artist. Machisu is born to a wealthy factory owning father, Risuke Kuramochi (played by actor and painter Akira Nakao) who is obsessed with the art world and buying artistic works by the ‘next big thing’. His father is actually generally conned by a shrewd art seller who takes advantage of Risuke’s lake of taste. After a visit from an up-and-coming artist, who praises the young Machisu’s paintings, the father becomes convinced that his son will become a great painter. With all the money and power that Risuke commands his son is priveliged and does not have to worry about getting in trouble for painting in class and when Machisu is standing in front of a train to paint it the driver quickly stops shouting at him when he realises who he is. Machisu’s life changes drastically though when Risuke’s factory is forced to close, resulting in Risuke declaring bankruptcy and finally committing suicide. Machisu is sent to live with his uncle and aunt who don’t know quite what to do with the art obsessed youngster.

The film follows Machisu from this young age through adolescence and art school all the way to middle age, at which point Machisu is played by Takeshi Kitano. As a young artist Machisu is actually quite good, showing promise that is never really fulfilled. He constantly visits an art buyer/critic for advice, dutifully following every suggestion to the extreme. The irony is that the art buyer actually has one of Machisu’s childhood paintings hanging in the gallery, stolen when his father went bankrupt. When other artists work are suggested Machisu instantly appropriates their style, often with amusing results. There are imitations of Miro, Klee, Pollock, Basquiat and many others. None of these are Machisu’s own artistic voice and it was when he had childhood naivity, an almost ousider art status, that he showed promise. His desire to please the art world ultimately corrupts him.

Takeshi Kitano is an artist as a respected filmmaker, author, poet and comedian but he is also a well respected painter, with all the paintings included in the film allegedly supplied by Kitano himself. These even include visual references to his other films. For instance one is a painting of the cinema from One Fine Day, Kitano’s segement in the 2007 Cannes film compilation Chacun Son Cinema. Kitano is both taking a swipe at the art world but also analysing his place in the art world and how different things could be.

Akiresu to Kame is very different in style to both Takeshis’ and Kantoku Banzai! and is the most linear and stylistically conventional film that he has made in a long time. The film focuses on the main character across six decades and with a slow and meditative pace this is more akin to films such as Hana-Bi or Sonatine than his more recent films. The colour palette of the film is also muted with the paintings standing out through their vibrancy against the pale backgrounds. The lighting, camera movements and soundtrack mark the film more in a tradition of melodrama in Japanese cinema but the film is distinctly a Takeshi Kitano work.

The film is often bleak but it also has moments of very dark Kitano humour. There are a series of vignettes as Machisu and his wife attempt to recreate various artist’s work and these are very reminiscent of the sketches involving Asao trying to have sex in Kitano’s 1995 ‘sex comedy’ Getting Any? These scenes are comedic and with Kitano’s usual incredible grasp of pathos.