Too many foreign movies released in the U.S. lately share the same plot: gruff geezer turns sweet after being forced to take care of guileless small child. Think of Kolya, The King of Masks and Central Station. Add Kikujiro, a Japanese film, to the list, but with an asterisk. Its crusty middle-aged coot, Kikujiro (Takeshi, who, as Takeshi Kitano, also directed), warms up to his mini mate (Sekiguchi), but he remains as irascible as ever with everyone else.
Kikujiro is a road movie, with its mismatched pair hitting the highway in search of the 9-year-old's long-absent single mother. Along the way, Kikujiro teaches the boy how to puncture the tires on a car, insult strangers and steal food. The film is slow at times, but wryly amusing. (R)