Kikujiro (Kikujir? no natsu) is an unusual story about little 9 year old Masao, who, when faced with a lonely summer ahead without his friends and just his grandmother for companionship, takes it upon himself to search for his long-lost mother. With the unlikely help of his strange and grave-faced neighbour, ‘Mister’, together they embark on a very poignant and fractured journey filled with random, colourful strangers and bizarre, surprising encounters.

Kitano’s portrayal of ‘Mister’ is really a joy to watch. Ranging from stubborn, rude, very offensive, absurd, off the wall and fearless, his unintentional sensitivity in this tale can leave you feeling often bewildered and enamoured by him.

Likewise, Yusuke Sekiuchi’s portrayal of Masao is worthy of much recognition too as he sinks into deep melancholy and breaks our hearts with his yearning for his mother. It is the bond between Mister and Masao which is the selling point here and the basic premise for the film as a whole, because it really is a journey into friendship and the discovery that love can be found in the most unsuspecting of places.

Visually this film is very appealing and is often told through the use of flashbacks in Masao’s “How I spent my Summer” school project. Kitano lends his own artistic skill to the animation which sporadically appears in the film and gives it an off-beat edge and softens the desperation facing Mister and Masao.

Kikujiro is directed, written and edited by Takeshi Kitano and sets itself apart from his typical violent offerings centred around the usual gangster characters (Boiling Point, Sonatine, Violent Cop) in favour of a more gentle style and change of pace. A much loved and prolific personality in Japan, Kitano goes beyond his comfort zone and gives us something completely different. As Kikujiro, Kitano’s portrayal shouldn’t be loveable, but it is just too difficult to not be endeared by him. This is partly due to the beautifully composed score by Academy Award-winning Jo Hisaishi, as his music compliments the story perfectly with it’s simplicity and is his fifth collaboration with Kitano.

This film is guaranteed to make you laugh, even go so far as to enrage you in places and shock you into submission to see beyond the simplicity of the surface storyline. I urge you to see it!