Kids Return DVD review

Takeshi Kitano's study of the hard road to adulthood is a rewarding experience...

Kids Return

Takeshi Kitano’s 1996 film, Kids Return, is a slow-moving drama which is in equal parts warm and melancholic. Mostly concerned with the lives of two young rapscallions, the film documents the ambitions and lifestyle choices of a generation of teenage boys as they come to the end of their high school career.

Masaru (Ken Kaneko) get his kicks outside of lessons, terrorising staff and fellow students alike, disrupting lessons by dangling meticulously-constructed nude effigies of teachers from the school roof, or by mugging the meeker kids. His best bud Shinji (Masanobu Ando) is his equal in skiving, but mostly looks on. Before long, it becomes clear that Masaru cannot be contained by the confines of compulsory education, and is expelled; after a deflating run-in with an amateur boxer, he decides to take up the sport at a local club. Initially apathetic and shy, Shinji eventually joins as well.

Kids Return hits a sweet spot with its characterisation of this central twosome, and how their paths initially run parallel, but soon diverge. Masaru’s brash arrogance, and hunger for transgressive control, leads him to give up boxing in a flurry of impatient frustration, in favour of becoming a small-time goon for the local Yakuza boss. Shinji, on the other hand, blossoms in the controlled, guided nature of the training scheme, working his way into the amateur circuit and becoming a championship hopeful. However, their deep-seated emotional quirks, Masaru’s restlessness and Shinji’s easily-led tendencies, soon assert themselves.

The raw content of Kids Return may seem quite inauspicious, or even generic, as it veers from social drama and coming-of-age nostalgia, to dorky comedy and sports-based subplots – but Takeshi Kitano’s objective, deadpan approach to direction, with long, meditative takes and little in the way of stylised editing or camerawork, gives the film a distinct feel. Its opening act, in which the myriad characters are introduced, unfurls in a non-linear fashion. Other teenagers are brought into the mix, adding other perspectives on the struggles to find a place in society. One boy falls for a waitress in the local cafe, and enters the sales business to support their life together, but is hit by misfortune.

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The film sails very close to being hopeless, as the youths’ choices come to nothing, but there is a vein of warmth and humour throughout. Indeed, the most successful of the teenagers are two boys who perform as a quick-fire, absurd comedy duo, firing off tight wordplay in such rapid bursts that the otherwise solid subtitling can barely keep up. Indeed, even by the end of the film, when its two main protagonists have reconciled after both seemingly missing their own distinct opportunities in life, there is still a sense that there is still much of their lives ahead of them. Kids Return is a pleasantly complex, yet still very watchable film, with deep-rooted, relevant themes.

Extras None

4 stars

Kids return is out now.

Rating:

4 out of 5