Japan's Takeshi Kitano to Play "Sympathetic Pervert" in New Film Project

Takeshi Kitano H 2013

The iconic Japanese actor will appear in American director Wayne Wang's first Japan-set feature, "While the Women Are Sleeping."

Japanese actor, director and comedian Takeshi Kitano, aka "Beat Takeshi," will star in American director Wayne Wang's next feature, While the Women Are Sleeping, a psycho-drama based on a short story by Spanish novelist Javier Marias. Wang is best known as the director of The Joy Luck Club, Smoke and Maid in Manhattan.

The film marks the fist time in 12 years that Kitano — famous the world over for his his Yakuza (Japanese mafia) films and stirring dramatic comedies, such as Sonatine, ZatoichiBrother, Outrage and more — has accepted a lead role in another director's film.

The film is told from the perspective of a Japanese writer (Hidetoshi Nishijima), who meets a mysterious older man (Kitano), traveling with a much younger woman (Shiori Kutsuna), at a seaside resort on the Japanese peninsula of Izu.

At a press conference in Tokyo on Saturday, Wayne said, with a laugh, that he was attracted to the story because, "one of the main characters is a very sympathetic pervert."

He added: "It's about an older man, [Kitano's character], who becomes interested in a young girl when she is just 10 years old, but his only interest is in trying to videotape her sleeping, because he feels that to watch a woman sleeping one can come to understand a certain purity or innocence about her."

As the film starts, the older man has been videotaping the young girl every night since she was 10 years old, but he has also known from the beginning that she will eventually betray him.

"So, in a way, it's a Yakuza film," Wang said, "because it's all about betrayal — expect it's also a twisted love story."

Kitano drew a big laugh from the crowd in Tokyo with his deadpan self-introduction: "I am the Japanese actor Ken Watanabe. Good afternoon, thank you for having me."

Kitano said he accepted the role because his agency couldn't manage to decline on his behalf, so he "agreed without giving it too much thought, because they said they wanted me to appear just a little."

"But when I got the script, it had my name on the top," he added. 

Although he doesn't speak Japanese, Wang said he had little difficulty communicating with the actors on set. "With body language and interpreters, I could get things across pretty well," he said, adding, "You know, Takeshi-san really co-directed this film. He was so good at suggesting interesting scenes and subtle cultural changes."

While the Women Are Sleeping was pitched at the Busan Project Market in 2013. Principle financing came from Dentsu and Toei. The film is set for a 2016 release in Japan, with Toei distributing.

The producers and Toei are currently discussing plans for an international release. "I'd like for this film to get strong recognition overseas," said executive producer Toichiro Shiraishi.