Trying to prove he's more than just a purveyor of handsome, message-heavy violence, Japanese writer-director-actor "Beat" Takeshi Kitano ("Fireworks," "Sonatine") has opted to make a sentimental road movie about a surly ne'er-do-well who finds a little heart while helping a 9-year-old look for his absentee mother.

The film is "Kikujiro." The kid is Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi), a timid boy who was abandoned as a baby and has lived his whole life with his grandmother. The plot gets its start when Masao, bored with his summer break from school, decides to strike out on his own looking for the mother he's never met, and a neighbor's irresponsible oaf of a husband is reluctantly sent along as his guardian.

Kikujiro (Kitano) is a lousy choice for the job since he's uncouth, uninterested, self-centered, a habitual gambler and a cheat who soon sees them broke and sleeping in bus stops because he's blown their traveling money at the races. He makes young Masao pick the winners, then berates the kid when they lose. Somehow the scene plays funny, but it doesn't change the fact that Kikujiro is a jerk.

Continue reading: Kikujiro Review