Thanks to Tweeter Paul Weedon, I was last week alerted to the existence of Takeshi no Chōsenjōaka Takeshi’s Challenge, the ill-fated 1988 venture into the world of videogaming by indefatigable (and consistently surprising) Japanese media polymath Takeshi Kitano.
“So what?”, I can sort of hear you mutter. Well, by all accounts, it turns out that the game (released only in Japan on the NES) was inspired more by Takeshi’s hatred of video games than anything else, and was almost impossible to complete.
I won’t go into too much detail, but here are some hilarious potted highlights from the game’s Wiki:
The plot and origins
The game’s plot, where a despondent salaryman seeks to find a hidden treasure on an island, is introduced as having been created by Kitano while he was drunk at a bar; however, Kitano himself explains that the plot was solely the result of an hour-long talk at a cafe near his production company
Completion of the game requires several unorthodox uses of the Famicom system, such as using the second controller microphone to speak while playing pachinko, or not touching the controls for an hour. The player must also maneuver a hang-glider to complete a side-scrolling shooting game, made extremely difficult because the controls do not allow the player to move upwards on the screen.
Minor details such as not quitting the salaryman job, not getting a divorce, or not beating up the old man who provides the treasure map, can prevent the player from reaching the ending.
Apparently the game frequently crops up on ‘Worst Ever’ lists, but I for one would certainly love to give it a shot.
UK non-cinephile viewers might know Kitano best from the lunatic gameshow Takeshi’s Castle, an infinitely more dangerous version of It’s A Knockout, which was voiceovered in characteristically cheeky style by Scouse comedian Craig Charles. However, Kitano is one of Japan’s most distinctive cinematic voices, not to mention one of the most important figures in my film education as a younger person. I remember when Film 4 did a short season of his best work (including Violent Cop, Hana-Biand Sonatine) and I was astonished by the jarringly expressionistic manner in which he used editing in the presentation of violence, and the haunting combination of deadpan comedy and serious emotion that seemed to seep through every scene.
But, yeah, enough of that. Here’s a typically berserk commercial (starring Takeshi) advertising the game itself:
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film I Wish (Kiseki, literally ‘miracle’) is an endearing portrait of two young brothers and their friends and family, and the desires that drive them all.
Twelve-year-old Koichi (Koki Maeda) lives with his mother and her parents in suburban Kagoshima, while his younger brother Ryunosuke (Oshiro Maeda) lives with their father, a struggling rock musician, several hours away in urban Fukuoka. Koichi is a serious young man who worries about reuniting his family, while his younger brother Ryunosuke is a freer spirit who devotes his energy towards making the best of his new situation rather than trying to restore things.
When Koichi hears a rumour that the new bullet train connecting their two towns can make miracles happen when two of them pass each other at a certain point, he is convinced that this mystical energy is exactly what he needs to put his family back together. With the help of their close friends, both brothers prepare to reunite for an adventure. I Wish captures the tenderness of the brothers’ daily lives as they and their friends innocently reach out for help with confronting the changes the world throws at them.
I Wish is a delight to watch because it showcases superb acting by its ensemble cast – all of the characters onscreen seem so natural and immensely relatable. It’s easy to see what makes each character tick, which is rare to see onscreen in adults, let alone pre-pubescent children. I’d bet that few of us remember the unique mix of naiveté and reflection, curiosity and criticism that we had once, not to mention the boundless, restless energy; in the film, the kids seem to be running all the time! It’s enchanting to be reminded of that time of our lives when our curiosities and passions thrived, unsullied by cynicism and practical limitations, the world seemed big but not scary and our friends were everything.
The cast is led by two real-life brothers, Koki and Oshiro Maeda, a comedy duo that goes by the name MaedaMaeda. The director re-wrote the script after meeting the Maeda brothers, blown away by their confidence, their comfort with improvising and their sense of fun. The other children who play their friends had mostly not acted before, but were cast for their unique personalities. All seven children are engaging because they are just starting to form their adult personalities, but are at slightly different stages of early maturity. Megumi (Kayara Uchida) is serious about becoming an actress; Makoto (Seinosuke Nagayoshi) wants to be a baseball player and loves his dog Marble; Tasuku (Ryoga Hayashi) fancies the school librarian; Kanna (Kanna Hashimoto) likes drawing; and poor Rento (Rento Isobe) loves her food but wants to be better at running.
The children were not given any scripts, and their performances are successfully unforced. The director’s tactic was to tell them their lines on the day of filming, as he did when working with children for Nobody Knows in 2004. Koki was the elder statesmen of the children, aware of what was needed and guided the others. Oshiro’s guileless charm has a feminine appeal, so it suits his character to be close to three girls while his older brother hangs out with two other boys. The brothers’ contrasting personalities – one solemn, the other lighthearted – provides enough dramatic tension to propel the story forward.
While the narrative perspective of I Wish is slanted heavily towards the children, this is not a Japanese Beasts of the Southern Wild – there’s no precocious voiceovers and their world is real and un-magical. The parents, grandparents, teachers and even strangers who watch over the kids in this communal society are sensitively portrayed; all have their own backstories, their own flaws and preoccupations, and support the kids from the sidelines, not as dictators. We see the brothers’ dad hanging out with his band, their mom meeting up with old classmates for karaoke, their granddad conferring with his buddies to try and revive his old career making sweets.
By allowing screen time to show these small details, the film gives us fellow grown-ups the means to fully understand the world these kids inhabit. Kore-eda says of the adult characters in his film: “All the adults that appear in I Wish are all adults I want to be. I want to be an adult that casually waits for his children to come back from their adventures.” It could be argued that the adults in the film trust the kids to an extent that could seem unrealistic and impractical; but it is easy to justify and sympathise with their benign faith in them as a natural extension of the kids’ infectious exuberance and optimism.
It’s a truly great film about pre-teen life: honest and unsentimental, but also gently humorous. I first saw I Wish at the 2011 London Film Festival and felt grateful to have caught it because I doubted whether it would get UK distribution – but now it has! So go see it, and reacquaint yourself with your inner child.
I Wish opens in selected UK cinemas on 8 February.
Choosing which films to see out of the hundreds at the BFI London Film Festival is never an easy task, but one key bit of information definitely helps me prioritise – whether the film’s already got a UK distributor or not. I always pick at least one foreign film or documentary that I may never get another chance to see, usually from Asia, often from Japan. They’re safe bets to me, considering the country’s rich cinematic history, and they provide refreshing breaks from Eurocentric perspectives. My personal opinion is that many modern Japanese cultural products, from anime to music to cinema, thoughtfully mix Western influences and Eastern values so that the experience is both enticingly unique and broadly accessible.
This year I chose director-screenwriter Kenji Uchida’s entertaining tragicomedy Key of Life, a Japanese-style riff on Trading Places in which Sakurai (Masato Sakai), a down-and-out actor, opportunistically steals an amnesaic’s identity. Sakurai’s life is in shambles – he owes everyone money and the ex-girlfriend he still loves is engaged. Likably pathetic, he even fails at committing suicide. When Kondo (Teruyuki Kagawa) slips and hits his head in a bathhouse, a shortcut for restarting Sakurai’s life literally falls at his feet. It’s extra-lucky that Kondo happens to be quite wealthy. Kondo-as-Sakurai chances upon a bit of luck too in befriending Kanae, a nerdy magazine editor, at the hospital. She is on an endearing-yet-vaguely-pitiable mission to get married before her ill father dies, and discovers that it’s convenient to get to know someone while he is trying to rediscover himself. It’s all fun and games until the real Sakurai stumbles across the source of Kondo’s wealth – it turns out that he’s an assassin for the mob, and his last job wasn’t quite finished… thus the fates of these three previously isolated figures are suddenly tied together, and they’re left testing when their collective luck will finally run out.
The world the film portrays is wacky, yet recognisably modern and cynical; apart from the main trio, everyone makes selfish decisions that destroy relationships and are largely driven by pride and materialism. That backdrop is vital, as it facilitates us rooting for these naive principal characters while they earnestly fumble through these unusual circumstances. We trust them enough to go along for the ride, happy to be surprised at the twists and turns.
But most importantly, there’s plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as the two men play with their new identities. Most of the credit goes to Kagawa’s bravura performance as Kondo, deftly switching between the cold, professional assassin to the vulnerable amnesic; Sakai seems outclassed, too much of a ham, but in fairness, his character is supposed to be a failed actor. Key of Life orchestrates its many tonal shifts skilfully, evoking an enjoyable range of emotions. Uchida’s well-crafted, well-executed comedy is well-worth a watch. And next time you’re perusing a film festival programme, keep an eye out for good foreign films without distribution deals.
Here’s an absolute treat, stolen shamelessly from Shadow and Act – a fantastic website dedicated to media from the African diaspora with an emphasis on cinema . The late Sammy Davis Jr. is here in prime Bill-Murray-in-Lost-In-Translation mode in a series of cinema-parodic ads for Japanese whiskey Suntory.
And would you believe it!? Here’s Ray Charles too. Yes indeed!