Takeshi Kitano, who was born in Tokyo in 1947, originally started out as a comedian. He was a student of the well known comedian Senzaburo Fukami, and together with Kyoshi Kaneko he performed as a duo under the name of Beat Takeshi as The Two Beats starting in 1972. The manzai style of comedy, which originated in the Kansai area, involves a straight man (tsukkomi) and a dumb guy (boke). The straight guy feeds a gag line to his partner, gets the funny response and then usually smacks the guy over the head for his trouble. This act was very successful, especially popular among students, and caused a boom for their brand of comedy called Manzai or cross-talk. Before that time, he also worked part-time as MC in a strip-club
Kitano then moved on to movies, and played a comic role in Ikuo Sekimoto's Danpu Wataridori, which flopped. He then played in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence by Nagisa Oshima, together with David Bowie, which made his name know outside of Japan as well.
He then moved on to directing, starting out with his yakuza thriller Violent Cop. He developed his own style of moviemaking in this feature, painting a uneventful and peaceful scenery using a static camera viewpoint, and then have bouts of violence erupt out of that scenery.
This recipe is followed in his yakuza films, such as Boiling Point and Sonatine, but he also created more silent or comedic films such as A Scene at the Sea, Getting Any?, Kids Return and Kikujiro no Natsu. These films use the same style of filming and acting, but have a more tender overtone.
Just barely surviving a traffic accident under influence in 1994, Kitano had to be hospitalized for four months to recover from skull fractures, broken jaw, and nerve damage. The accident caused a slight paralysis of the right side of his face, which also worsened his already slurred way of speaking (Indeed, trying to understand him now is very difficult, if Japanese is not your original language). After his recovery Kitano spent more time on his painting. and some of his paintings are also featured in his movies. In Hana-Bi, his character tells a friend who was dismissed out of the policeforce after being wounded to take up painting to pass the time.
Speaking of Hana-Bi: This movie was very sucessful and even won the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Film Festival, along with several other awards such as the Best Non European Film at the 1997 European Film Academy Awards.
Kitano's film Brother was his first directorial feature produced outside of Japan. The movie is half english and half japanese, and features some influence of American filmmaking that Kitano mixes with his own style.
His latest release is Dolls, which is due to hit the streets anytime soon now... It is apparently based on a novel, and has been adapted for the big screen by Takeshi. He claims it is his most violent movie so far, but not with respect to actual graphic violence, but emotional violence. He does not appear in it himself.
As well as acting in his own films, he also played major and minor roles other directors' films, such as Oshima's Gohatto, Robert Longo's Johnny Mnemonic, Toshihiro Tenma's Many Happy Returns and recently Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale.
Finally, Takeshi Kitano is present in all of Japan's media. He has a comedic talk-show on TBS (where his game show Takeshi's Castle also ran a couple of years ago), regularly appears in other shows, wrote a number of novels, short stories, essays and poetry. In fact, Takeshi has dominated the Japanese TV scene for over fifteen years. Ever ready to dress up as a schoolgirl or poke fun at minorities, Takeshi has constantly tested the limits of what can be said and done on TV. He personally sponsors an amateur baseball team and plays for them from time to time. He is also busy in the music business, having released several records. Finally, he has taken up managing young or promising actors and comedians.
Naming convention: When acting before the camera, Takeshi usually goes by his stage name of Beat Takeshi. When directing, or visiting a talk show, he uses his own name of Takeshi Kitano.