Today is the Director-In-Focus day, with 3 movies by writer-director-producer-comedian-etc Kitano Takeshi. And the three movies are all quite different in nature, with this one being one of Kitano's directorial efforts without being in front of the camera, Hana-bi being the violent movies he's come to be famous for, and Kikujiro at the other end, being non-violent but full of heartwarming fun.
Kids Return is a semi-autobiographical movie, and you can see shades of Kitano, reel or real, in some of the characters. Primarily, it focuses on the lives of two slacker best of friends, Masaru (Ken Kaneko) and Shinji (Masanobu Ando), who play truant frequently, and are ever threatened with expulsion from school. They have no aim in life, and are drifting and wasting their time and youth away, acting up as the ruffians and bullies in school.
Two events change their lives though. One is a run in with a boxer, who inspires them to pick up boxing so that they could get a rematch of sorts. The other is the Yakuza, represented by a group who frequents the same diner they go to. From then on, the movie picks up, as we follow the very different paths these two buddies take. I kinda like the way the movie presented this aspect of life - that even amongst the best of buddies, there will come a point in time where your ideals and aspirations take you down different paths. But although your lifestyle might have changed, at the end of the day, when you get together, you're still the best of friends. This is very true, that you never really left each other, and the door is forever open for you to catch up from where you left off. Different paths, different lives, parallel outcomes.
The movie's very easy to follow with its straight forward narrative, as we follow the timid Shinji in his path towards glory in the boxing ring, and observe from the side the decisions that the brash Masaru make which allows him to rise amongst the gangster ranks. More screen time is devoted to Shinji's though, as at certain points, it looked as if it was the Japanese version of Rocky Balboa. Punctuating the movie isn't The Eye of the Tiger, but Kids Return has a catchy enough soundtrack courtesy of Joe Hisaishi, who frequently scores Takeshi's movies.
The movie however, doesn't just bore you with these two friends, as there are enough side characters from the same school, like the disillusioned teachers, and fellow students turned comedians, and one, a sales failure turned taxi driver, to add some layers to the story. But ultimately, it's life as it goes full circle, and it makes you wonder whether good guidance is always that important factor to break the negative lifestyle anyone is living in.
Oh, and did I mention this movie had one of the more memorable movie props - a puppet with a makeshift dick made out of a flashlight and two bulbs taped together. You gotta see it to believe!