Culture in France

Paris gives carte blanche to Japan's bad-boy comic

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Japanese filmmaker Beat Takeshi Kitano is taking Paris by storm. His exhibition, Gosse de Peintre (The house painter's kid), runs all summer at the prestigious Fondation Cartier; the Centre Pompidou is hosting a Kitano film and TV retrospective; and the windows of Paris bookstores are displaying his memoir, Kitano by Kitano, written with the French journalist Michel Temman.

© Office Kitano Inc.

A figure of Kitano greets visitors near the entrance of the Fondation Cartier, holding his brain in his hand; "the man who refused a craniotomy," reads a plaque.

Kitano took up painting after his near-death in a Tokyo motorcycle accident that partially paralysed his face. His canvases appear in his films.


He is Japan's most famous filmmaker internationally. In March, he was awarded France’s highest honour for arts and culture when he was named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. The award was presented to him by Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand at the Fondation Cartier.

But he is less renowned at home. In Japan, he is best known for his outrageous gags as a stand-up comic and TV show host.

He has paraded through the streets of Tokyo in his underwear and once mooned an audience to show his disgust. He grew up surrounded by hooligans and admits he could have become a yakuza, or gangster.

Kitano's films, many of them about gangsters, often dwell on the dark side of life, but his Paris show has turned Fondation Cartier into an amusement park of gags and games. It features a giant sewing machine, a marionette theatre and a waffle stand. Visitors can hire paintball guns to squirt blank dinosaurs.

Photo: Yoshinaga Yasuaki

Though childhood takes centre stage, a lot of the satire is serious, mocking Japanese society for its conformity and use of the death penalty. Excerpts from his slapstick TV shows make fun of Japan's workalcoholism, eating habits and corporate culture.

Kitano was raised in a poor family in a working-class district of Tokyo. His father, a house painter, was a heavy drinker. Many kids in his tough neighbourhood joined the Japanese mafia. But Kitano, pushed by his mother, pursued his passion for mathematics and science.

He enrolled in university, only to abandon classes for show business.

André Morin

"I still haven't figured out why a prominent institution like the Fondation Cartier would want to hold an exhibition of my work," Kitano said at the show's opening.

“When people tell me I'm an artist, I say what? It's impossible for me to take the idea seriously. I just wanted to have fun here."

"I had a basic art education like all Japanese," he added, speaking through an interpreter. "The artists that I like are the Impressionists. I appreciate Matisse and Picasso, but if I had a main influence in my life, that would be from my father. He was a house painter."

Gosse de Peintre (The house painter's kid) runs at the Fondation Cartier through 11 September 2010.

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