Zatoichi - a film by Takeshi KitanoWith so many people I knew going on about this crazy Japanese gameshow called Takeshi’s Castle, I eventually thought I may as well look into it, since generally I’m quite a fan of their (admittedly derranged) culture. So in fact I was even more amazed than all of you because turns out that this Takeshi bloke is actually the same guy whose films I’ve been watching for years! So, since people seem to know this talented genius only through this amusing and actually rather inspired slice of Japanese dementia, I thought I’d share a little more about the mysterious “Beat” Takeshi Kitano.

In Japan he is best known for his roots in stand-up comedy as half of a duo called The Two Beats (the name came from their love of jazz music). As a result he has had much trouble being accepted as a serious actor and director, so his films tend to receive more critical acclaim abroad. That said, while many focus on popular themes like the Yakuza (Japan’s Mafia equivalent with a penchant for slicing off fingers to punish disloyalty or failure), they are not quite accessible enough to ever reach a mainstream audience.

Not only does Takeshi Kitano write, edit and direct his films, but he also stars in the majority of them too, which grants him an unparalleled level of control in his work. Kitano is an incredibly diverse figure, known throughout Japan but for different reasons in different circles. He has no real equivalent in the Western world (with the possible exception of Stephen Fry), with his talents including stand-up comedy, hosting game shows (in Japan it is not uncommon for him to be on television every night of the week, presenting a different show each night), writing novels, as well as having his own column in a newspaper through which he acts as a social commentator.

Whilst he has dabbled in comedies like Getting Any? (DVD release 29th March), Kitano is best known for his violent flair in films such as the bleakly amusing Sonatine and the incredibly moving Hana-Bi which received many awards including the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion. His idea of violence is cold and brutal rather than glamourous, always occurring in sudden short controlled bursts. Recently his style has matured with the more reflective and astoundingly beautiful Dolls.

His newest offering is fusion of both these elements and has been described as rivalling Tarantino’s much anticipated second volume of Kill Bill. His first period film, Zatôichi is the story of a blind swordsman (played by Kitano himself) on a quest for vengeance, and has already collected a series of awards including the Toronto People’s Choice Award.

But for those of you who are still just tuning in to Takeshi’s Castle to watch crazy people fracturing their skulls (I mean this quite literally – Stepping Stones anyone?), keep your eyes peeled in the last game with the Emerald Guard outside the castle. One of the vehicles is a goldish colour and if you look at the driver, you may spot the elusive Takeshi himself. So now at least you know who he is. Even if it is for all the wrong reasons…