Boy, by Takeshi Kitano, translated by David James Karashima. New York: Vertical Inc., 80 pp., $17.95 (cloth).

These three stories by one of Japan's most popular film directors (aka Beat Takeshi, one of Japan's most popular TV comedians) were originally published in 1987. They thus antedate the first of the films ("Violent Cop," 1989) and the most extreme of the TV appearances, but they are made of the same material — the childhood and youth of Kitano himself.

Here, the father is either abusive or absent — just as he is in "Kid's Return" (1996), "Kikujiro" (1999), and other later films. Kitano told a Cannes Film Festival audience that "as a small boy I hardly talked to him. He was drunk, violent, and I'd hide under the bed."

To compensate, he became close to his brothers — as in later films such as "Sonatine" (1993) and "Brother" (2000). He also intensified this closeness by merging the two siblings into characters who complement each other to the extent that they become something like ego and alter ego.