北野武＝ビートたけしによる展覧会《絵描き小僧展》（Gosse de peintre）が、東京オペラシティ・アートギャラリーで先週末から始まっている（会期は2012年9月2日まで）。これは２年前にパリのカルチエ財団で催されていたものとほぼ同内容のもののようだ。このエントリーにも記したように、そのときドイツの映画雑誌CARGOに書いた展覧会評があるので、今回の日本巡回に寄せて元原稿（英語）を以下に掲載する。
Takeshi Kitano: Between Cinema and Art
Remarks on Beat Takeshi Kitano's exhibition Gosse de peintre at the Fondation Cartier (March 11– September 12, 2010)
It is well known that Takeshi Kitano is not only a filmmaker but also a painter. However, his paintings that can also be observed in the opening scene of Hana-bi (1997) for example, have been regarded as naïve pieces of a Sunday painter. Basically, they have not been as impressive as many of his films. Kitano self-mockingly named himself a painter's kid (gosse de peintre) and says that he paints only for pleasure and not for sale. On this account, I honestly did not expect much when I heard of his exhibition at the Fondation Cartier.
In reality, however, his paintings occupy only a small part of the show, whose major component is a number of strange installations (we can also call them childish gadgets), fabricated from his ideas and built by the technical staff. The overall atmosphere of the venue is a Japanese temple fair, which reminds us of Tora-san's world *1. The show includes a mechanical puppet show featuring traditional Japanese characters on the ground floor, theater façade décor in the basement, and a food stall set up in the garden, all of which help create a typical festive atmosphere. The interactive installation, where you can spray paint dinosaurs with your favorite color, is particularly evocative of a fairground attraction. Although most of the installations scattered around the floor are like an embodiment of schoolboy's whims and fancies, such as the dinosaur exhibition where there are answers that list the several possible causes of dinosaur extinction, which is all too childish as the answers are along the lines of "because thy can't wipe their bottoms", or another exhibition that is composed of five electric fans that is supposed to bring you the breeze from Nice or from Corsica, but instead surprises you with unpredicted movements when the buttons are pressed, it is of no use getting irritated at their childishness, since they are to be taken as an aspect of the fair's entertainment.
Some of Kitano's installations are particularly striking because we can discern a kind of death drive working behind them, although they are based on the same kind of peculiar ideas. The most eloquent example is an installation in which condemned criminals try desperately to cheat the gallows: each tries to prevent his own body from falling, either by biting strongly into the noose, by standing astride a broad opening of the scaffold (a former circus member's case), or by extremely ballooning his cheeks (a former trumpet player's case). Beneath the comical situations in these installations there is an unfathomed abyss of death; this also figuratively applies to the other works as well. One salient example is The safest driver's seat on the planet that can be attached to any kind of vehicles including a transporter, a jumbo jet, and a nuclear submarine (the seat is a product of HONPA – instead of HONDA –, a mediocre pun, which could have been used to insinuate Chinese plagiarisms). It is understood that this is dangerous equipment, reminiscent of his own bike accident on August 2, 1994, which he himself called a "failed suicide"; the aftereffects of which are still visible on his face. Another example of an installation with death-like connotations is a short film about calligraphy that was projected in the basement, in which a suspended man holding a large brush was manipulated via ropes by several men wearing nothing but loincloths (like sumo wrestlers), who make him write a large letter on the floor panel. This playful game, which immediately takes you back to Kitano's crazy TV shows in the 1980s, notably to the famous Takeshi's Castle, can be very dangerous, as the suspended man could be at risk.
In fact, playfulness and death are two major themes of Kitano's filmic works. Whereas Getting Any? (1995) and Kikujiro (1999) offer a large variety of harmless gags, Hana-bi and Dolls (2002) tell different stories about death. The best moment of his films are when these two elements converge. Viewers remember that the couple in Hana-bi, before committing a double suicide at the end, indulge in small games and harmless funs throughout the film. Another unforgettable scene is in Sonatine (1993), where two young yakuzas, having nothing else to do at the beach of Okinawa, amuse themselves with a loaded revolver and are speechless when the boss, played by Kitano, comes to propose a game of Russian roulette and pulls the trigger mischievously at his temple. Kitano's artistic activities are by no means exempted from this duality. The exhibition undoubtedly features playfulness, as is evidenced by Monsieur Pollock, an automatic maker of an abstract expressionism painting, and by several funny artworks made with the most unexpected appliances (such as an electric fan and a radio-controlled car that was used to create abstract paintings, a shower head that was used to produce a pointillist painting, a burner to imitate an ink and wash painting, etc.). The fact that art is inseparable from death and destruction in Kitano's work is confirmed by his recently released film Achilles and the Tortoise (2008), which tells the life story of an unsuccessful painter, Machisu (named after Matisse). In this film, Machisu tries anything, following the unhelpful advice of his art dealer, to create paintings that will sell, even going so far as to suffocate himself in the bathtub in order to create an extreme situation and thereby get artistic inspiration. The moral of this film is that painter's art would not be possible without risking his own life.
Concerning Kitano's paintings, we are not as interested in his twenty or thirty recent acrylic paintings of different motifs that are on display in the basement, as we are in the series of paintings that date back to 1996, a section of which already appeared in Hana-bi and conceived by the character in the wheelchair, Horibe, as he passes in front of a flower shop. These paintings, which depict imaginary creatures with animal bodies and a flower as heads (such as a sunflower grafted onto a headless lion body, a lily grafted onto a panther, a pansy grafted onto a raccoon, etc.), are also made into three-dimensional objects, called The Animal and Flower Vases, for the present show. The reappearance of these pieces after more than a decade indicates the fundamental importance that the artist places on chimerical figures. Indeed, uncanny creatures that are literal chimeras are displayed semi-clandestinely inside the dim theater façade in the basement, including an elephant-goldfish, a cow-fish and a giraffe-scabbardfish. We can discern much of the same type of imagination at work in some of Kitano's other works as well. For example, a series of rediscovered "Japanese imperial army's secret weapons" are also other kinds of chimeras; they include a combination of an elephant and a gun, a huge whale shark and an aircraft carrier, a chameleon and a sidecar. There are also genetically engineered fish, whose bellies are stuffed with pre-prepared sushi (here the effect of mise en abyme is added). These examples suggest that Kitano is an inheritor of surrealism, who enjoys putting together the most unexpected combination of things. His works could have been perfectly included in Romi's Histoire de l'insolite (1964), which assembles a number of strange, bizarre and eccentric artworks from antiquity to the twentieth century.
Excerpts from TV shows, presented in the theater downstairs as the "real work of Beat Takeshi," must be of particular interest for European audiences. His performances on television were for the most part bewilderingly ridiculous, as can be easily guessed not only by the clips themselves, but also by his fifth film Getting Any?, directed under his stage name, Beat Takeshi, so as to emphasize a continuity with his TV persona. In a way, we could even say that the whole exhibition seems governed more by Beat Takeshi than by Takeshi Kitano. This is particularly true of a newly conceived six-minute film entitled This is Japan!, a sardonic and nonsensical demonstration of various typical western misconceptions about Japan (geisha, ninja, hara-kiri, etc.). We should not forget that these two Takeshis are not so incompatible as one tends to imagine, in his films and especially in this exhibition, which is why the whole show is credited to the name "Beat Takeshi Kitano," a combined name he never uses in Japan.
The exhibition is certainly interesting in a number of ways, but I have to admit that I still have a higher regard for his films than for the exhibition. What is indispensable in the filmmaking but optional in the museum space is the important element of time. In my view, Takeshi Kitano is particularly good at manipulating time. Otherwise, he could not have edited most of his films so brilliantly, nor have made a career in the comic world in the first place. However, I cannot help but conclude that his peculiar, nonsensical conceptions are in themselves somewhat precedented if not banal, and that they would be at their brightest when articulated in a certain sequence.
*This article was first published in German as "Deadpan: Anmerkungen zu Takeshi Kitanos Ausstellung « Gosse de peintre » in Paris", CARGO Film/Medien/Kultur 06, p.40-43. I would like to thank Bert Rebhandl and Christa Blümlinger for the invitation.
*1:Tora-san is a very popular character from a long-lasting film series, Otoko wa tsurai yo (1969-95), a kind-hearted vagabond whose home is located in Shibamata, one of the more popular and traditional districts of Tokyo, not far from Asakusa or the Adachi ward where Kitano was born.