TOKYO - Japanese actor-director Takeshi Kitano, who brought the yakuza gangster genre to a global public, says he could have made his life in the underworld had it not been for his mother.
The star of "Violent Cop", "Sonatine" and "HANA-BI" made the revelation in a new book, "Kitano par Kitano" (Kitano by Kitano), written with French journalist Michel Temman and to be released next week.
"If it were not for my mother's strict education, I could easily imagine having become a yakuza myself, because many of my friends in those years ended up becoming yakuza," he told AFP ahead of the book's launch.
"But none of them really managed to get to the top. So if I had become one, I wouldn't have made it very far. I might even be dead now," Kitano added.
"Everyone around me, every friend I grew up with, was a quasi-hooligan. I didn't think it was something special to do things like steal cash from shinto shrines. Every kid in my neighborhood did that."
Acclaimed overseas for action movies that often reveal a bleak outlook on life and human relationships, and wildly popular on TV shows at home as quirky comedian "Beat Takeshi", Kitano grew up living on the edge.
Born in post-war Japan in 1947, Kitano was raised by a poor family in a working-class district northeast of Tokyo. His father, a house painter who gambled and drank, spent little time with his four children.
It was his strong-willed mother who pushed him and his siblings to study. With a passion for mathematics and science, Kitano enrolled in university, only to abandon classes for his other great love, show business.
After making his acting debut on the stage of the "French Theatre" in Tokyo's working-class district of Asakusa, Kitano quickly clinched a spot in a television show under the name "Beat Takeshi".
Since then, Takeshi has become a household name and still appears from time to time on eight weekly TV shows in tandem with his career as a movie director.
Takeshi's television persona is often the opposite of the characters he plays in his movies. Instead of the cool gangster, Kitano plays the obnoxious kid whose bawdy remarks reveal his comedic side.
Responding to critics who call him vulgar, Kitano said: "I am more upset than hurt... (but) from the very beginning of my career as a comedian, I thought to myself that the critics are not to be trusted."
Kitano silenced his detractors with his directing debut, the thriller "Violent Cop", in which he also starred.
He shot to international fame in 1993 with his fourth movie, "Sonatine", devoted to yakuzas, although it was a relative flop in Japan.
The next year Kitano, after a heavy night out, had a brush with death in a Tokyo motorcycle accident that scarred and partially paralysed his face.
"I could have died, but a string of coincidences let me survive," he said.
Energetic Kitano soon went back to work, shooting "Kids Return" (1996) about youths in a poor neighborhood, followed by "HANA-BI" (1997), a poignant love story in the midst of an anti-gang fight, which won him Venice's Golden Lion Award.
In 2003, his movie "Zatoichi", which pays homage to a Japanese classic about a blind swordsman, won him critical acclaim both overseas and in Japan.
Apart from his book's publication, other events are planned in France this year on Kitano: a retrospective of his films at the Georges Pompidou Center, and an exhibition of his paintings at the Cartier Foundation.
"I just want to call them kid's paintings, kid's drawings," he said. "If I would say that my paintings are more than a hobby, people would laugh at me."