In a move that will no doubt please fans of “Violent Cop”, “Sonatine” and his other early works, acclaimed Japanese film maker Kitano Takeshi returns to the Yakuza genre with “Outrage” after a series of art house outings. The film’s title is certainly very apt, as it’s an outrageously brutal and nihilistic affair, with only villains for characters, who spend most of the running time chopping each other to pieces. Taking one of the lead roles himself, Kitano is supported by a number of familiar faces and genre veterans, including Shiina Kippei (“Shinobi”), Miura Tomokazu (“Adrift in Tokyo”), Kunimura Jun (“Blood and Bones”), and Kase Ryo (“Letters From Iwo Jima”). Having played in competition at Cannes in 2010, the film perhaps unsurprisingly divided critics, mainly due to its never-ending tide of blood.
The plot revolves around a gang power struggle, which kicks off when the chairman of the top Sanno Kai Yakuza family (Kitamura Soichiro) informs his number two Kato (Miura Tomokazu) that he is not best pleased by their members the Ikemoto clan being close to the Murase gang. Although Ikemoto (Kunimura Jun) has sworn a vow of brotherhood with Murase, he nevertheless orders his second in command Otomo (Kitano Takeshi, here credited as Beat Takeshi) to start some low level trouble in order to try and placate the chairman. Things quickly spiral out of hand and the bodies soon start to pile up as the various bosses and sub bosses turn against each other.
Apparently Kitano wrote the script for “Outrage” around the mayhem, and this is easy to believe, since so much of the film is taken up with acts of shocking brutality. The film is relentlessly violent, featuring guns, iron bars, switchblades, dentist drills and much, much more, including one particularly gruesome scene involving chopsticks and a meat cleaver. Even for hardened viewers things do get pretty shocking, with the carnage being depicted in a very matter of fact style and the vast bodycount racking up so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of. The film is exceedingly graphic, and while for some this may mark it as a must-see of hard boiled crime cinema, it’s definitely not for those with weaker dispositions.
Although the violence is undoubtedly the point, hammering home the simple brutal equation of power, life and death in the Yakuza world, there is more to the film than a series of set pieces and bloody money shots. The film does start off in relatively simple fashion, though as the gang war escalates, it becomes increasingly complex and hard to keep a handle on all the deceptions and shady alliances. Whilst its end destination is never really in doubt the film is unpredictable simply because it’s impossible to say where the next betrayal is coming from, with almost every character attempting their own Machiavellian machinations. On this score, the film resembles Shakespeare without the tragedy, as sworn brothers turn against each others, bosses treat their men like pawns, underbosses scheme their way to replace their bosses, and the police try to get what they can from everyone. Despite it being resolutely without a hero, antihero or even really a protagonist and with all its characters being pretty awful and immoral people, the film grips from the start and refuses to let go. Kitano creates an incredibly tense atmosphere, with the threat of death and chaos ever present, and in this the film resembles not only “Violent Cop”, but some of the 1970s genre works of Kinji Fukasaku, in particular “Battles without Honour and Humanity”.
At the same time, the film is not without a sly sense of humour, and Kitano has a glint in his eye and a sadistic half smile as he goes about his bloody business, at times as if he were getting up to mischief rather than ultra violence. The film also has somewhat of a satirical edge, painting a society rife with corruption and hypocrisy, even taking a pot shot at the general public, who seem to wander through the madness unseeing or uncaring. This does make for a few laughs, for example during one very funny and telling scene, in which a man sits playing a Nintendo DS in a noodle bar with his headphones on, ignorant to the bloodshed going on around him.
Although as a film maker Kitano will no doubt continue to explore his more artistic side, it must also be hoped that he will at the same time continue to return to the Yakuza genre, simply because he is so good at it. No one does sharp dressed cold bastards with guns and knives with quite the same detached ruthlessness, and on that score, “Outrage” is certainly one of his most enjoyable outings in years.
Takeshi Kitano (director) / Takeshi Kitano(screenplay)
CAST: Takeshi Kitano … Ôtomo
Kippei Shiina … Mizuno
Ryo Kase … Ishihara
Tomokazu Miura … Katô
Jun Kunimura … Ikemoto
Tetta Sugimoto … Ozawa
Takashi Tsukamoto … Iizuka