Japan auteur Kitano’s latest samurai film headed to Cannes

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TOKYO, April 16, (AP): Takeshi Kitano’s new film, premiering at the Cannes Film Festival next month, is a samurai story without heroes, mercilessly portraying human greed, betrayal and cruelty. Kitano, awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his “Hana-Bi” in 1997, wanted to make a different kind of period piece in “Kubi,” or “neck,” a reference to traditional Japanese beheadings. “Most samurai films portray famous people and don’t focus on the dirty side of human existence or show how evil people don’t care a hoot about slaughtering regular people,” Kitano told reporters Saturday. The story features a 16th-century feud centered around Oda Nobunaga, a powerful warlord – well known in Japan but not as familiar for overseas audiences. But the Shakespearean intrigues are familiar enough. The spectacular battle scenes evoke Akira Kurosawa classics like “Seven Samurai” and “Kagemusha,” according to Takeshi Natsuno, president of Kadokawa, the production company behind “Kubi.”

Kitano, 76, began in Japan’s equivalent of vaudeville as a stand-up comic with the stage name Beat Takeshi, before becoming a superstar on TV shows and films. The latest work juxtaposes the horror of killing with the absurd, said Kitano, appearing on stage with his cast at a Tokyo hotel. “Kubi” features a star-studded cast, including Hidetoshi Nishijima, marking his return to a Kitano film since the 2002 “Dolls,” which was inspired by traditional Bunraku puppet theater, as well as Ryo Kase, who appeared in Kitano’s “Outrage” gangster series. Kitano also acts in the new film and wrote the screenplay, based on his book, published in 2019. Some of the most dramatic scenes in “Kubi” involve fabulous sets, but were taken in one cut or minimal cuts. Kitano said that was intentional and recalled that director Nagisa Oshima taught him to stay away from closeups in major scenes. Kitano’s first major film role was in Oshima’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,” a drama about a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II, starring David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto. New films by Wes Anderson, Alice Rohrwacher, Hirokazu Koreeda, Todd Haynes and Wim Wenders will compete for the Cannes Film Festival’s coveted top honor, the Palme d’Or, as will a record number of films directed by women. Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux and president Iris Knobloch, who took over the post last year from Pierre Lescure, announced a lineup heavy on big-name international auteurs, along with some new faces, in a press conference Thursday in Paris

Among the 19 films selected for Cannes’ prestigious competition slate are Anderson’s sci-fihomage “Asteroid City,” Wenders’ “Perfect Days”; Kor-eda’s “Monster”; Alice Rohrwacher’s “La Chimera”; and Haynes’ “May December,” a romance with Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore. Ken Loach, long a Cannes regular, will return with “The Old Oak.” Jonathan Glazer will premiere his first feature since 2013’s “Under the Skin” with his Martin Amis adaptation “Zone of Interest.” Joining Rohrwacher, the Italian director of “Happy as Lazzaro,” in competition are five more female directors: France’s Catherine Breillat with “Last Summer”; Austria’s Jessica Hausner with “Club Zero”; France’s Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall”; Senegalese-French director Ramata-Toulaye Sy with “Banel & Adama”; and Tunisia’s Kaouther Ben Hania with the documentary “Olfa’s Daughters.” Cannes has often come under criticism for selecting few films by women for its prestigious competition lineup.

Only two female filmmakers have ever won the Palme d’Or: Jane Campion in 1993 for “The Piano” and Julia Ducournau in 2021 for “Titane.” While six out of 19 films is a new high, it still falls below the parity that some have sought. Several of Cannes’ splashiest premieres had already been announced. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” will debut in Cannes, along with a special tribute to Harrison Ford, as will Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” his big-budget adaptation for Apple of David Grann’s non-fiction bestseller. Fremaux said he urged Scorsese to screen “Killers of the Flower Moon” in competition at the festival, but it isn’t currently scheduled to compete for the Palme. On Tuesday, Cannes said that the Pedro Almodóvar short “Strange Way of Life,” with Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke, will also premiere at the festival. Cannes gets underway May 16 with the opening-night selection “Jeanne du Barry,” starring Johnny Depp as King Louis XV. The film, directed by and co-starring the French actress and filmmaker Maïwenn, has been billed as Depp’s comeback film following his explosive trial last year with Amber Heard, his ex-wife. The festival runs through May 27.

The much-anticipated HBO series “The Idol”, from “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson and starring the Weeknd and Lily-Rose Depp, will also debut in Cannes. Steve McQueen, the director of “12 Years a Slave” and the film anthology “Small Axe,” will present his “Occupied City,” a documentary about Amsterdam under Nazi occupation during World War II. The jury that will decide the Palme d’Or will this year be led by the Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund, a two-time Palme winner. After winning Cannes top honor for 2017’s “The Square,” Östlund won last year for the social satire “Triangle of Sadness.”

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