Takeshi Kitano, known the world over as ‘Beat’ Takeshi, is a rare individual. He has more than earned ‘that guy’ status even though he has, to my knowledge, never appeared in any original American made entertainment mediums. In fact I don’t think I have ever heard him speak English. Takeshi is one of those prolific, all-around artists with his hooks in film, TV, art, poetry, music and even comedy and with Outrage, Kitano has done his best work since Brother.
My fandom for Takeshi started with Brother, and continues with his director/writer/producer/editor efforts on the ultra-violent Yakuza drama Outrage, about an escalating war between rival Yakuza gangs. Kitano stars as Otomo, a weary and weathered mid-level gangster (though considered small-time by his superiors) caught in the middle of a pissing contest between the powerful Yakuza conglomerate he works for, and the smaller gang controlled by Murase. Murase was an inmate with Otomo’s immediate supervisor, Ikemoto. Otomo, invoking some sort of patriarchy in their organization, calls Ikemoto father.
This patriarchy is ruled and sustained through lies, ruse, and cyclical barbarism, all coming from the top. One thing I learned about this film: If you are Yakuza, you will give or take a beating every day. I imagine Foley artists burning the midnight oil slapping sides of Kobe beef together for all the fists meeting flesh!
Although Kitano has stated in interviews that he wrote some of the death scenes first, and then centered the story around it in an effort to simply make an entertaining film, he has managed a bit more than that. The film is a bit hard to follow at times, keeping track of who is avenging what on whom being the toughest part. I kept myself on track by imagining the gangs as corporations acting the way they wished they could. I dubbed the larger conglomerate Wal-Mart, of course, with the smaller gang being more like The Cheesecake Factory. Otomo is Wal-Mart middle management, which means he carries enough responsibility to be accountable for much, but the power to accomplish little, and he has shitty health insurance.
Once I got my yakuza in a row, I was able to better follow the betrayals and growing animosity between the gangs, and boy was that fun/uncomfortable to watch. I did like the story, such as it was, but it is certainly the violence and ever-creative ways to ‘off’ someone that really carries this film and will please fans of previous works like Violent Cop and Boiling Point. Kitano seems to favor close-up shots especially during some of the more question-and-answer dialogue scenes that occur when interviewed by corrupt and impotent police investigators. This builds the tension almost comically, edifying the frustration in trying to rattle or get something over on the all-powerful Yakuza.
In the end, Outrage is an appropriate title. You may feel a bit cheated, but only in the sense that you may have wanted things to go differently for some. The outrage also exists in the heightened reactions by the patriarchal leaders of the gangs, who act as marionettes. But even their strings can be pulled and cut. Do not expect redemption, not even for those who are righteously vengeful. Evil kills evil, thereby creating more evil. Kitano has made his best film in ten years. Beat goes on.