One would expect a comedy about a gruff middle-aged guy who gradually befriends a cute little boy to be a major change of pace for writer-director Takeshi Kitano, but as it turns out Kikujiro is yet another – though very strange – variation on his absurdly deadpan cinema of cruelty. Structured like one of Jerry Lewis’ more inventively cut-up narratives, only with a frightening id monster at its center rather than one of Lewis’ essentially harmless spazzes, the film manages to be both genuinely funny and a little disturbing.

The monster is Kikujiro (played by Kitano), an aggressively infantile lout who, through a flimsy plot contrivance, is given the job of accompanying young Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) on a trip to visit the mother who’s abandoned him. Along the way they meet, among others, two only-in-Japan punks, a pair of extremely wimpy bikers and a pedophile who almost molests Masao. Aside from some droll slapstick, the humor here comes from Kitano’s tendency to view extreme acts and action with a placid gaze, with dollops of over-the-top sentimentality replacing the usual money shots of squirting blood.

As usual with Kitano, none of this is meant to be realistic. In fact, he has said in an interview that if realism had been his intent then "Masao would have been raped behind the toilet in the park and Kikujiro would have sold him into slavery."

Right. And I bet he would have made it seem kind of funny, too.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at