Achilles and the Tortoise takes its title from a famous paradox by the
pre-Socratic philosopher Zeno, which claimed that motion, time and change are nothing but illusions. The film tackles the idea that art is a chimera, and follows the absurd, star-crossed life of a man with no talent. Young Machisu has the creative spirit of the sprinter, but circumstances conspire to keep him crawling at the pace of the tortoise. There’s too much bad in his life – a bankrupt father, a harsh foster-uncle, hostile schoolteachers – and then, when he grows older, the endless struggle to find and develop a personal style while earning a crust. Kitano himself takes over the role of Makisu in the closing scenes and uses his own paintings throughout to illustrate the character’s travail – and, of course, to parody movements in modern art. Sophisticated and original, Achilles and the Tortoise features a rich procession of paintings by Kitano. Though designed to represent the failure of an amateur artist, these works are actually quite fascinating. Furnishing an elegant subtext to the film's smooth narrative texture, the pictures write Machisu's emotional history, filling in his many silences. Tinted with unusual chromatic choices – sepia fading around the coloured paintings of his childhood, psychedelic acrylic shades portraying his youth – the film skillfully embeds high-art meditations in a relatively simple storyline. It offers a perfect theorem, destined to outpace Zeno's paradox and restore reality to art.