By 1999 Takeshi Kitano had quite rightly gained a lot of international recognition for his brilliantly constructed Yakuza/Cop stories, but was apparently dis-satisfied that everybody tended to focus on the violence in them. So he decided to make a movie without any violence to remind people that he was a much more rounded talent than that. "Are you sure about this?", the world asked. "Yes", he replied... and made Kikujiro.
Kikujiro is difficult to adequately describe, but the fact that it was allegedly inspired by the Wizard of Oz is a good starting point. The basic premise is a road trip, where Kitano is the unlikely chaperone for a little boy who wants to go and find his mother. After gambling away all the money his wife gives him to take the kid, they have to improvise their transport across the country. Along the way they meet a small but colourful cast of characters, and get to know each other a little bit too.
I'd hesitated about picking this up for ages, and eventually went for a rental rather than a purchase. Kitano minus violence just didn't seem right! But that was definitely an injustice I was doing him, and Kikujiro is a good demonstration that his talents really are much broader. In fact, after watching it there is no doubt that he is one of the greatest director/actor/writer and editor working in the world today. A brilliantly painted story, full of subtly and quirkiness. Awesome cinematography and an incredible soundtrack... truly world class in every respect. Well, to be fair the child actor was a bit stiff, but it seems mean to hold that against the movie.
Definitely recommended if you haven't already seen it!