By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated July 30, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Pleasant and ethnographically informative as they are, the three scenes from childhood gathered in this slim volume benefit from background knowledge — and may suffer without it. They’re the work of the prolific Japanese polymath and pop phenomenon — actor, filmmaker, comedian, essayist, novelist, TV star, painter — who calls himself ”Beat” Takeshi. (David James Karashima translates with an ear for the author’s deadpan drollery.) For years, Takeshi Kitano’s films have zigzagged between stark yakuza-centric violence (Sonatine) and amusing kid-centric cuteness (Kikujiro). Boy‘s three ostensibly lighthearted tales, so personal in tone and intimate in details about drinking fathers, frightened brothers, and bullying classmates, put Kitano’s identification with children in a clarifying light. B