Takeshi Kitano began his journey by following his master’s golden words. Senzaburo Fukami told him, “Don’t be laughed at. Make them laugh.” Before Takeshi entertained us with Takeshi’s Castle and Battle Royale (2000), he was just an ordinary Asakusa kid. He worked as an elevator boy in the France-za strip club theatre, where he met his master, Senzaburo Fukami. The moment Takeshi saw Fukami, he knew that it was the beginning of lifelong companionship. The relationship he still cherishes and adores.
Asakusa Kid, directed by Gekidan Hitori, celebrates the relationship between a master and a disciple. The story, written by Takeshi Kitano himself, plunges into nostalgia and traces the impact of Fukami on his life. The lessons that helped him become a skilled artist and shaped him into the person he is today.
‘Asakusa Kid’ Plot Summary
In 1974, a 30-year-old Takeshi “Take” Kitano and his partner, Kiyoshi Kaneko, the two comedians from Asakusa, Tokyo, tried their luck in Manzai (double act stand-up). Even though they had a burning passion in their hearts, they failed to gather a large enough audience. No one enjoyed their acts because they didn’t enjoy it themselves. After a weary day, Takeshi and Kiyoshi rested in a sleazy hotel room. At night, Takeshi remembered the golden days he spent under his master’s guidance.
Two years ago, in 1972, Takeshi worked as an elevator boy in a troupe theatre and strip club, France-za. The charming and skillful comedian, Senzaburo Fukami, ran the place and everyone in Asakusa was in awe of him. Seeing Fukami perform on stage pushed Takeshi to confront the master and express his desire to become a comedian like he was. Hesitantly, Fukami took Takeshi under his wings. Fukami enchanted Takeshi with his tap dance during an elevator scene, a lesson Takeshi followed throughout his life. Takeshi told Fukami that if he had the zeal to fight against all odds, he would be ready to give his all.
Working under Fukami, Takeshi learned one of the most basic details about Good Comedy. Takeshi knew from Fukami that a comedian doesn’t need to look funny to make an audience laugh. He should do it with his skills and his character. And it is the easiest, yet most difficult, part of comedy. Though Fukami loved being a comedian, he couldn’t afford to be on stage. That is one of the tragedies an artist has to face. Hence, he had to make a decision that would affect both him and Takeshi.
Why didn’t Fukami sell France-za, initially?
With the arrival of television sets, the audience inside France-za theatre disappeared. The only men that came in were because of the strip club that Fukami used to run. But Fukami was an artist, and performance was his breath. He couldn’t have lived without it. He could have died without it. Hence, even when the old creeps came for the girls, Fukamai did his best to entertain them through his skits. But Fukami couldn’t keep up his act for long. The cost of running France-za burdened Mari and Fukami. Mari was even ready to work as a geisha to support Fukami’s passion, but until when?
Azuhachi heard about his master’s financial debts. He suggested Fukami sell the theatre and offered him a job in his friend’s company. Initially, Fukami refused to sell the theatre because if the place had been closed, then who would have taught Takeshi?
Fukami cared about Take more than his financial burdens. But he knew that Take was a bird meant to fly. Hence, he taught him all the skills he had, to prepare Take for the world outside. And soon came Kiyoshi Kaneko, who asked Take to perform Manzai on the road.
Take was fed up with the creepy audience he had at France-za. Hence, he decided to test his mettle and told Fukami that he wanted to leave. Though Fukami knew that it would happen someday, he didn’t imagine that the moment of separation would come so soon. With a heavy heart and some anger in his demeanor, Fukami let his most beloved disciple leave. Soon after Take left, Fukami sold France-za and started working in a factory. Fukami died the day he sold his stage, but he was happy with what Take had become.
What made Takeshi a success?
In 1974, Take came out of nostalgia and remembered his master’s golden words. He changed his approach to Manzai and renamed their group’s name to Two Beats. Beat Takeshi performed with his heart and passion and became the comedian Fukami wanted him to be.
The duo even performed for television and quickly gained popularity among the general public. Even with all his success he achieved, Take never forgets the lessons Fukami taught him. He still performs his master’s tap dance, the first thing he learned from Fukami.
How did Fukami Die?
Theatre is a dying art. Ironically, it’s been dying for almost 100 years. The passion of an on-stage artist or a dramatist keeps it alive. To make a film, you need a camera, a crew, and a script. To be a stage artist, you just need a spot. But Fukami needed more than a spot; he needed a roof. Hence, after Fukami sold France-za, he never performed.
When Take won the grand prize at the entertainment awards in 1981, he paid a visit to Fukami. At this moment, Fukami had little to hold on to. He had lost both his theater and Mari. The only thing that kept Fukami alive was Take’s achievements.
Perhaps, Fukami was living the days before Take became a star. And when he did, Fukamai decided to rest. After a heart-whelming night with Take, Fukami went to his apartment and shared sake with Mari’s photograph. In his carefree stance, Fukami let a cigarette bud burn the apartment, along with all the scripts, props, and dress Fukami cherished. Fukami didn’t die a natural death. Instead, he burned. Burned like a star, an artist always wants to become.
‘Asakusa Kid’ Ending Explained
At Fukami’s funeral, Azuhachi told Take that he held on to France-za even with its financial burdens because he wanted to teach Take. Azuhachi explained to Take that a man like Fukami didn’t even bow to the Yakuza in his life. But after Take left the theatre, he went to the other theatre managers and bowed in front of them so that they would be nice to Take.
Maybe it could be a small gesture for a person, but for Take, it meant the world to him. The relationship between Fukami and Take may remind some cinephiles of Cinema Paradiso. The way Alfredo introduced cinema to Toto. The journey the two of them traveled together was what made Toto a film director.
In a sequence, an old Take visited his master’s grave and washed the stone. In his gesture, Take wanted to express to his viewers that no matter how big or famous he would become in his lifetime, he would always be a disciple of Fukami. As a master, he couldn’t ask for anything else but such love from his disciple.
At the end of Asakusa Kid, Take bought France-za and revisited all the memories that warmed his heart. He remembered all those people who touched his soul and helped him become the artist that he had become. The film ended with Take on stage enacting Fukami’s iconic line, “I am a comedian, you fool.”
Maybe the film hits you emotionally because of its autobiographical approach. It’s a collection of raw emotions generated from a real man’s experience. It portrays the bond a disciple shares with his master. I believe Take saw Fukami as a blessing in his life. It could be the reason why Yô Ôizumi, who played Fukami, exuded such a enchanting aura that people couldn’t stop complimenting him on his brilliance. Maybe the emotional genius of Asakusa Kid lies in the fact that Takeshi Kitano honestly owes his life to his master.
Asakusa Kid is a 2021 Biopic Drama film written and directed by Gekidan Hitori. It is based on a novel written by Takeshi Kitano, dedicated to his master, Senzaburo Fukami.