by Jason Suzuki
2016 has been a great year for Kitano fans. Those who imported Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen should have received their copies by now, multiple restorations of his films are coming out on Blu-ray, and a CGI Kitano throws a baby in Yakuza 6. Thanks Sega. But between two companies seven of Kitano's films will have come out this year in restored high-definition editions, five from Third Window Films and two from Film Movement (with covert art so distinct it has elicited negative pre-release reviews on Amazon). While Film Movement restored and released Kitano's first two films as a director, Third Window Films have covered a wider span of time and have chosen to focus more on the Takeshi Kitano side of the filmmaker, not the Beat Takeshi side. With Hana-bi, Kikujiro, and Dolls behind us and Kids Return finishing off TWF's year of Kitano, right now we have Kitano's third film as director, and first film as director/writer/editor: A Scene at the Sea.
A Scene at the Sea is also of note as it is the first film of his own in which Kitano does not appear in at all. He was a supporting role in Boiling Point and Getting Any? but here he devotes his full attention to the behind the scenes aspects of the film. It is carefully constructed, a realization of the wonderfully thought out exercises in composition and rhythm we saw in the baseball sequences of Boiling Point. No matter what your entry point is to Kitano A Scene at the Sea should remain a surprising title for fans exploring his work. Unless you start with the film then something like Zatoichi would be a surprise.
The sole bonus feature on this release is a full length audio commentary track from Jasper Sharp of the now defunct Midnight Eye. His name shouldn't be foreign to anyone buying home video releases of Japanese film or those who have read scholarly writing on the work of Kitano and other directors of this era. The packaging of A Scene at the Sea does list Aaron Gerow as the voice behind this commentary but this might be a misprint as Gerow is currently listed doing a commentary for the upcoming release of Kids Return. Sharp however does mention Gerow and reads some of his writing on Kitano's style. This is a brand new commentary recorded for the release. Sharp even makes mention of Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen and Kitano's upcoming presence in the upcoming Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell.
Sharp is able to fill out the commentary quite well. He covers much more than just the film itself and gives personal details to his own experience when getting into Japanese film which offers a glimpse at to when, how, and which films were getting overseas releases. Two works Sharp references is Gerow's book on Kitano and Casio Abe's Beat Takeshi vs Takeshi Kitano. He also takes some digs at Kikujiro, Brother, and specifically Dolls. Curiously, Dolls is from where the cover of Midnight Eye's Guids to New Japanese Cinema comes from. Sharp's discussion of the Kitano's more self-reflexive recent work hold no new insights and it's hard not to think that there is some bit of nostalgia Sharp carries towards Kitano's earlier work. A man after my heart though, Sharp finds common ground between A Scene at the Sea and PlayTime.
I would have never thought that the Kitano films to be given this sort of high-def treatment would be this group. A Scene at the Sea and Kids Return (I'm assuming based on TWF's previous four Kitano releases) look and sound better on their respective Blu-rays than Sonatine's. Adam Torel has stated that in the coming year their will be changes to Third Window Films due to recent health issues and Torel's increasing presence as a film producer (Lowlife Love). It would be fantastic if they could get around to Getting Any? and the self-reflexive artists trilogy but this is already a special collection of Kitano's work.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.