Takeshi Kitano Receives Tokyo Film Fest's Samurai Award, Slams Local Industry


The iconic actor-director criticized the way Japan's major studios control his country's Oscar submissions process

Director, actor and comedian Takeshi Kitano was true to his reputation as one of Japan's most entertaining and outspoken film figures when he received the Tokyo International Film Festival's inaugural Samurai Award at a reception held in a skyscraper in the city's Roppongi district. The 67-year-old talent used the occasion to criticize the Japanese film industry and the timidity of the local media.

"The bad thing about the Japanese industry is that the production companies have relationships with cinemas," he said at the hour-long presentation. 

"If you look at the films nominated for the Academy Awards by Japan, it's always movies from TOHO, Toei, Shochiku, and maybe Nikkatsu," he added. "It irritates me. Films that aren't from these companies are almost never nominated. And the newspapers don’t mention this either, because they get ads.”

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Kitano noted that none of his films have ever been put forward by Japan for the best foreign language film category of the Academy Awards.

The Samurai Award presented to Kitano was created this year by the Tokyo festival "to commend the achievements of a director who continues to create groundbreaking films that carve out a path to a new era." Tim Burton also will receive the honor at a ceremony in Tokyo on Friday.

Kitano, also known as "Beat Takeshi," rose to prominence in Japan in the 1970s and early 80s as a comedian and television presenter, before attracting international notice as a director and leading man with a string of well received gangster films and light comedies (A Scene at the Sea, 1991; Sonatine, 1993; Hana-bi, 1997). He has directed some 17 features and acted in over 50. He continues to be a ubiquitous presence in Japanese pop culture, hosting a weekly talk show, Beat Takeshi's TV Tackle, and regularly fronting national advertising campaigns.

Recounting the early days of his career -- when he worked in Tokyo cafes and saunas frequented by gangsters to supplement his income – Kintano took another swipe at Japan's studios.

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“It's tough to make a living if you are not listening to the studios," he said. "In order not to get tied up by them, you have to be able to make another living."

During the Q&A session, an audience member pointed out that the Japanese cinema has increasingly relied on manga for content, rather than original stories, much as Hollywood has become dominated by comic book adaptations.

"If you make a film from something that was already commercially successful, you're likely to attract an audience -- that's all," Kitano replied. "The movie companies don't have the courage to pay some unknown screenwriter."

"But no matter how you complain, as long as you're in the commercial film business, that's how it's going to work," he added. "I just hope we can make good movies from the process."