A real departure for Japanese writer-director and poker-faced comic performer Takeshi Kitano, paradoxically more experimental and more mainstream than one might expect from him. His recent movies (such as Sonatine and Fireworks) are known for both their sentimentality and their violence; this 1999 feature has a lot of the former and virtually none of the latter. The minimal and ambiguous story involves a ne’er-do-well (Kitano) accompanying a nine-year-old boy on the road to visit the mother he’s never met. One can’t tell if the trip is unfolding over days, weeks, or even months, which is part of this comedy’s abstract strangeness and ultimately points more to the boy’s tragic sense of loss than to any of the duo’s picaresque adventures. A haunting and sometimes beautiful movie, full of eccentric inventions and stoically repressed emotions. In Japanese with subtitles. PG-13, 116 min. (JR)

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