Video games have their fair share of authors, a term often applied to Japanese game developers like Shigeru Miyamoto, Hidetaka Miyazaki, Hideo Kojima, Shinji Mikami, Fumito Ueda, and Yoko Taro. Their games not only have their unique distinct vision but have become very influential.
One name we should also include, however, is Takeshi Kitano.
Better known by his stage name Beat Takeshi in Japan, Kitano rose to prominence in the 1970s as a comedian. He then moved on to film with his international debut as a sadistic prison warden in the 1983 Japanese prisoner of war drama Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, before becoming a full-fledged filmmaker with his directorial debut, Violent Cop.
But among his wide variety of credits, one could also say that he was also a one-time game developer.
Released for the Famicom in 1986, Takeshi no Chōsenjō (or Takeshi’s Challenge), for which Kitano was a consultant and designer, made you play a poor employee who embarks on a treasure hunt on a distant island. To get there, however, you’re also supposed to break free by breaking a bunch of social taboos, which include beating up an old man in order to get the treasure map in the first place, getting a divorce from your wife, and quitting your job.
While it certainly looks innovative on paper in the way it combines arcade action with narrative adventure games and even GTA-style indiscriminate violence, it was also a ridiculously and deliberately impossible game to beat, most infamous in the way it incorporated the use of Famicom’s microphone. on the second controller for sections of a karaoke bar.
The first game to receive Famitsu’s “kusoge” (crap) rating and considered one of the worst games of all time, it met the same fate as ET, however, still selling over 800,000 copies. , according to developer / publisher Taito. It has even been reissued on the Wii Virtual Console and for mobile.
Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot of heirloom in the games, especially from someone who seems to have been deliberately trolling the medium – or who was also apparently getting splashed with rice wine. at the time, if the stories are to be believed. That said, you could argue that it puts Kitano light years away from subversive indies specializing in anti-gaming or “unfun” gameplay. At the same time, with the way you are frequently accosted by yakuza or indulge in weird mini-games, you could also say that Takeshi no Chōsenjō was a precursor to the Yakuza games.
Indeed, Kitano has long been fascinated by the yakuza, believing that his own father may have been a member of them, while having explained in previous interviews how, when they grew up in a working-class neighborhood, children admired baseball players. and the yakuza.
Leaning into his violent badass character, perhaps to deliberately shock audiences who were more accustomed to making fun of him on television, he made himself known to an international audience with his “yakuza trilogy” at early ’90s, although it’s 1997’s Hana-bi it really puts him on par with other legendary Japanese filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu.
Playing a retired cop, Kitano is a man of few words who expresses himself best with outbursts of brutal violence against the yakuza gang repeatedly extorting the money he owes them. But that is also offset by the care he gives to his terminally ill wife and the widow of a colleague killed in the line of duty. It’s a nihilistic detective film that also shows the humor and humanity of its characters.
Kitano’s skill at making serious and meditative drama while playing the clown on TV shows makes his cast in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life just about perfect for a series that always balances serious drama and absurd comedy.
As a seemingly laid-back patriarch who treats the limbs of his yakuza subordinates like his own children, Hirose was clearly a character written for Kitano, and the Dragon Engine faithfully captures his harsh and tender likeness. He first greets Kiryu while enjoying an ice cream sundae, bragging about his recent feat of ripping off a hospital for insurance money. Yet his playful demeanor hides the fact that he actually has skills as a knife-wielding assassin and ends up being one of Kiryu’s deadliest opponents. Kitano naturally plays both sides of Hirose with brilliant understatement, making it one of the more nuanced performances in the series.
While Yakuza 6 could be Kitano’s first official contribution to video games in 30 years (the game was first released in Japan in 2016, although more audiences can now enjoy it thanks to its addition to the Game Pass), I think its influence can also be felt elsewhere.
Take Ghost of Tsushima. Of course, Sucker Punch can say that the team took inspiration from Kurosawa’s samurai films, going so far as to use a “Kurosawa mode” – as if the man hadn’t made color films (Ran is arguably his greatest masterpiece).
But I never really thought about Kurosawa when I was playing a vengeful and bloodthirsty Jin, but rather Kitano’s 2003 revival of the famous blind samurai Zatoichi – by the way the film that made me discover his work for the first time. times. Here, these fights revel in extreme levels of bloodshed, in stark contrast to the stern rebuke given after Sanjuro’s famous climax. Meanwhile, the slow, thoughtful samurai clashes that end quickly and abruptly serve as the biggest inspiration for the Ghost of Tsushima clashes.
However, to truly appreciate Kitano’s larger legacy on games, we have to go back to 1986 when, alongside Takeshi no Chōsenjō, Japan also started streaming Takeshi’s Castle. As the host, the game show had Kitano playing the count of a castle, which saw over a hundred contestants go head-to-head in ridiculously muddy obstacle-course type challenges, with their numbers dwindling with each turn. until the last challengers attempt to storm the castle.
While clips from the show occasionally appeared in the West on late night television to highlight examples of wacky and weird Japan, it wasn’t until the early ’00s, when it was condensed and repackaged for Challenge that it would become a cult hit, going on to inspire copy shows like Total Wipeout.
The biggest inspiration here in the games is, of course, Fall Guys, the online multiplayer game where up to 60 bean-shaped competitors compete in multiple rounds with a crowned champion at the end. Granted, there’s also inspiration from old British game shows like It’s a Knockout, which specifically invited contestants to dress in oversized foam outfits, but Takeshi’s Castle has always been an explicit example cited by developer Mediatonic. . One of the slideshows included a GIF from the show, and Door Dash is lifted straight off the Knock Knock trick.
It’s not just Fall Guys, because while some critics would cite the game as an example of a battle royale (or bumble royale) that subverts the violent combat of the original genre, they sort of do it backwards. Given that Takeshi’s Castle originated in the ’80s, its format of competitors knocked out over the course of the series arguably makes it the original battle royale, preceding the Battle Royale book and its film adaptation by more than a decade.
The links between the two may at first seem rather remote, with the latter forcing schoolchildren to fight to the death, making it a matter of controversy in Japan, at a time when youth violence was beginning to be a societal concern. Yet having Kitano, the host of Takeshi Castle, portrayed as the ruthless teacher overseeing the battle royale (his character also bears the same name) is clearly no coincidence.
These days, Kitano is still a regular presenter on Japanese television, but if the reports are correct, his next samurai film Kubi could also be his last as a director. While fans and critics alike will undoubtedly take this opportunity to reflect on his accomplishments, his contributions to video games shouldn’t be overlooked – they’re actually more important than you might imagine.
Article source https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2021-08-14-takeshi-kitanos-legacy-in-video-games