VENICE (Reuters) - Japanese cult director Takeshi Kitano turns his oddball gaze on what he calls the "cruel" world of art and art collecting in his latest movie, which has its premiere at the Venice film festival on Thursday.
"Achilles and the Tortoise" confronts the fundamental questions of what art really is and whether it has any true value beyond what it means to its creator.
In doing so, it mocks the art market, with an unscrupulous dealer passing off a child's work as that of a master and a gallery owner pontificating on the merits of a series of works.
The comedy, one of three Japanese entries in the 21-film competition in Venice, follows the life of Machisu, from a boy absorbed in his painting to a young man experimenting boldly with new techniques and ending with the middle aged artist, played by Kitano himself.
Machisu's devotion to art has comic and tragic consequences.
He becomes disillusioned as he tries to copy the styles of past masters, but in striving for something truly original he pushes the boundaries of bad taste and flirts with disaster.
Machisu also alienates those around him with the exception of his long-suffering wife, played by Kanako Higuchi, the only character who understands his obsession.
"In the movie I chose a painter as the main character," the softly-spoken 61-year-old director told reporters.
"My paintings are not appreciated by the public or critics, so I tried to deal with painting and tried to show that it is not necessary to be successful as a painter," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
"If you do something you like, it is OK all the same."
In production notes for the movie he adds: "Whether you are a hit or a miss is just like buying a lottery ticket."
What Kitano says for art may also go for cinema, where he admits he is not what many would consider a commercially successful director.
"I always say that in Japan my movies are not very successful," Kitano said. "I haven't had major success in Japan but I'm not going totally bankrupt.
"If my balance was in deficit I couldn't go on making movies. If I go on making movies, it means I have earned something for the works."
Kitano is a darling of the film festival circuit, and won Venice's top honor, the coveted Golden Lion, in 1997 for "Hana-Bi," or "Fireworks."
"Achilles and the Tortoise," named after the Greek paradox of motion, is the final film in Kitano's trilogy on entertainment and art that started with "Takeshis"' in 2005 and "Glory to the Filmmaker!" in 2007.
Kitano came to international prominence as an actor in Nagasi Oshima's "Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence" in 1983, and is best known in Japan for his roles on television, the comic duo The Two Beats, and for his irreverent wit and dirty jokes.
The second Venice competition film with its premiere on Thursday is "Jerichow," German film maker Christian Petzold's examination of alienation, migration and people's need for material security.
Editing by Dina Kyriakidou