Sunday, July 04, 2010

Kitano delivers a beat-down to today's Japan

In February, an autobiography of Kitano Takeshi entitled “Kitano par Kitano” was published in France. It was compiled from five years worth of interviews by Michel Temman, a journalist for daily newspaper Libération, and delves into his upbringing, his views on television and film, his near-fatal motorbike accident and more. A Japanese translation will be released in Kitano's homeland on July 7th, and news site Iza ran a few excerpts which I've translated below. You can always count on the Beat for some tasty soundbites.

I hate computers. Email too. There's a mobile phone in my car but I've never answered it. Take Twitter for instance: it's fine if you're sharing jokes and playing around, but I can't quite figure out the idiocy of treating it as a source of information.

Information comes to you while you're walking down the street. Even if you do your best not to watch television, I think the information that you'll receive will still be correct. But people these days are always searching for information. Because they chase after it, the information they come across seems amazing to them, even if it's no big deal.

It depends on who's putting the information out there. Advertising agencies and lots of different interests go about creating a narrative, where it has to go next and that sort of thing. It allows them to shift everyone from cage to cage like domestic animals. They don't notice that construct creates inequality.

In Japan today, people don't say whether something is dignified or not anymore. When we were kids, we had a sense of shame about lining up at a soba noodle joint or a standing eatery, but nowadays, everyone stands and eats at a furious pace. How did we become so bad-mannered?

Women doing their make-up on the train is a lot like a drunk pissing in a corner, but now they think it's fine to do it.

There are too many business models that trap poor people in poverty and circulate money within that. Whether its clothing or food, if you only buy what's sold cheaply and line up at places that are fast and cheap, you'll never be able to break out of that cycle. Hold back from eating three times and eat once instead. You can eat a 1,000 yen meal slowly to make up for it. It's the same with clothes. People were taught that way in the past.

There's no question that [news regarding] political corruption, or the sumo world's connections with organized crime that have become an issue lately, in other words Japanese society itself, is presented to us like “Hey, hey, check this out.” As much as the media say they take a stand against powerful interests, they're pretty timid towards their own advertisers. Lately that's come out into the open, which I guess is why everyone's got a frosty view of the media.

The film world's in a terrible state as well. The Japan Academy Awards are shared around by the major film production companies, and independent productions are shut out. Even though film critics and journalists have to write bad things [about movies] and give harsh critiques from time to time, film companies now only grant access to people who'll promote and praise their films. They have a strangely cozy relationship with them, and now it's gotten to the point where the whole system is rotten.

Politics is the same. The [DPJ's] manifesto became a talking point when they took over control of the government, didn't it. I said they'd never be able to make the highways toll-free. I asked how anyone could take one look at the people in the DPJ and still think it'd be possible.

[Former prime minister] Hatoyama was like a mayor who says “This town has no need of gangsters” even though things were running well when people were paying them. People who try to become marginally virtuous because they don't have what it takes to be a bad guy all make that kind of mistake. Essentially, politicians are people who can even take the initiative to start wars that could result in numerous deaths, so they're in no position to talk about small virtues. If they want to be a great power for good, they've got no choice but to do the full Gandhi.

It appears as though I'm having all sorts of adventures because I've got things like film, television, and acting to take refuge in. I always think, if I get picked on doing one of them, I can slip away to another bolthole. That just looks like I'm on an adventure.

Since my bike accident, I don't think at all about the amount of time I have left. Even if you told me today that I've only got a month left to live, I have the confidence to go on working and living the way I am. When I was younger I thought for some reason that I'd kick the bucket somewhere around the age of 63, and I've reached that age now, but my career's going well at this point, so if I'm not careful I think I might end up living about another ten years.


  1. I was thinking about translating that piece too; thanks for beating me to the punch and saving me the effort! (And nicely done, too, although "the full Gandhi" makes me think of nudity.)

  2. Thanks for bothering to read my translation as well as the original text! Hope the Gandhi quip isn't too off-putting; I can picture Kitano using a turn of phrase like that (if he had paid more attention during his ECC lessons).

  3. Thanks for the translation. I wonder if the the book will ever be translated to english. My japanese is not that good :)

  4. You're welcome Victor. I wouldn't be surprised if someone was already at work at translating the French edition into English, as I'm sure there's a market for it.

  5. i like japanese translation business its hop for me.

  6. I think I'm going to buy it. There are so many interesting thoughts and I share his point of view about advertising agencies (even if I studied advertising & communication).

    Kitano seems to regret the evolution of japanese society but he sounds a bit conservative in some way.

  7. Hi Wax,

    Although Kitano makes some valid points about how information is managed in Japan, he's not exactly convincing when he talks about a perceived deterioration of dignity among the current generation (his comedic TV persona is about as far from dignified as you can get). Even so, that's a big part of his appeal: he has so many different personas that he can adopt depending on the situation, or "slip away to another bolthole" as he put it.