||In Takeshi Kitano's KIKUJIRO, the actor/writer/director (billed as "Beat Takeshi") portrays the brash, mischievous title character, a middle-aged man living with his wife in Tokyo. When Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi), a sullen neighborhood boy, embarks on a quest to find his estranged mother, Kikujiro's wife instructs him to accompany the child. Unfortunately, before they even leave town Kikujiro squanders all of their travelling money by gambling at the cycle races and as a result these two unlikely companions must hitch a series of rides on the open road. As Kikujiro and Masao trek along the Japanese countryside, they encounter strange characters and circumstances, leading to a series of misadventures.^Given Kitano's reputation for violent gangster films, KIKUJIRO is a surprisingly gentle departure. However, the film still bears many of the director's stylistic trademarks (such as lingering shots of characters and landscapes) that often recall the more humorous and meditative moments of his other films like SONATINE and FIREWORKS. Kitano and the young Sekiguchi are superbly subtle in their roles, allowing their unusual chemistry to carry the film. Heart-warming without being predictable or overly sentimental, KIKUJIRO is a welcome addition to Kitano's accomplished body of work.