Kitano Opens Skull, Mulls Dinosaur Behinds in Paris Exhibition

"Whale" by Takeshi Kitano. The work is in "Painter's Kid -- Beat Takeshi Kitano" at the Fondation Cartier in Paris through Sept 12. Source: Fondation Cartier via Bloomberg

For the Japanese, Takeshi Kitano is a ubiquitous TV celebrity hosting no less than eight game shows a week. For Western movie fans, he’s one of Japan’s most original -- some say eccentric -- film directors.

The Parisians are discovering that he’s also a painter.

Kitano, born in 1947, came to international attention when his movie “Hana-Bi,” or “Fireworks,” won the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Film Festival.

It’s the story of an ex-cop, Nishi, played by Kitano, and his desperate buddy Horibe who has been paralyzed from the waist down after a shootout. To cheer him up, Nishi brings him a box of art supplies, and Horibe begins to paint.

When I saw the movie at the time, I wasn’t aware of the autobiographical subtext: In 1994, Kitano had a near-fatal motorcycle accident, and took up painting. (He had extensive surgery and has since recovered.)

Kitano’s canvases also popped up in his subsequent films. The Fondation Cartier show in Paris is his first in a museum.

He’s modest about his achievements, insisting that he’s only an amateur. The exhibition’s title, “Gosse de Peintre,” or “Painter’s Kid,” emphasizes the fact that the real professional in the family was his father, a house painter.

Kitano likes simple outlines, loud colors, animals with flowers for heads and other fairy-tale creatures. You could call his style Nippon Pop.

Brains in Hand

At the entrance, you are greeted by a doppelgaenger of the artist with an open skull, holding his brains in his hand and asking the visitor: “Who are you, who is looking at me?”

It’s not the only three-dimensional object in a room that feels more like an amusement park than a traditional art gallery.

Among other visual jokes, there’s a sewing machine in the shape of a locomotive, a new kind of “gefilte fish” -- a ceramic fish stuffed with sushi -- and a contraption designed to create paintings à la Jackson Pollock.

In the bookstore, several works produced by the machine are on display.

An installation titled “Modern Science Reveals Truth About Dinosaur Extinction” offers a new theory. It was their unhygienic lifestyle that did the creatures in, not meteorites or climate change: Because of their short arms, the dinosaurs had trouble wiping their behinds.

The basement is filled with memorabilia from Kitano’s early career as a stand-up comic in “Two Beat,” a popular double act. Many Japanese still call him by his nickname, “Beat.”

You also can watch him in his game shows, disguised as Superman, Buddha, a Martian or a pirate.

Bring the kids.

The Fondation Cartier is at 261 Boulevard Raspail, Paris. The show, which is supported by Shiseido Co. and Royal Philips Electronics NV, runs through Sept. 12. Information: or +33-1-4218-5650.

(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE