Business as usual
After the critical success but commercial failure of his surrealist autobiographical trio (Takeshis, Kantoku Banzai, Achilles and Tortoise), irector Kitano Takeshi said he wanted to make a flick that was just popular entertainment. Going back to his roots in the yakuza genre, the result of this commercial imperative is “Outrage.”
Like when Kurosawa Akira made his “popular entertainment” flick The Hidden Fortress, Kitano can’t really keep the art out of his filmmaking. He took an unusual approach when writing “Outrage.” After creating his list of characters, he decided how they all died then worked backwards creating a story that would accommodate their deaths. The result is a violent and merciless film, one where one small action tips the dominoes of death, which march on relentlessly until all fall down.
The story is set in Tokyo, where Boss Ikemoto (Kunimura Jun, My Darling is a Foreigner) is recently released from prison, and gathers at a meeting to pay tribute to the yakuza lord of Eastern Japan. It is known that in prison Ikemura swore an oath of brotherhood with gangster Murase (Ishibashi, Renji, 20th Century Boys), an independent gangster who controls some turf and a drug operation. The yakuza lord worries about Ikemura’s new loyalties; is he plotting with Murase for an over throw? Ikemura decides to allay these suspicious by picking a deliberate small-scale fight with Murase, opening an office on his territory and allowing one of his gangsters to fall for a Murase-scam so that he can demand reparations. The plan escalates, however, as there are those in both Ikemoto’s and Murase’s organizations who would take advantage of the strife to advance their own position by killing rivals.
One of the interesting things about “Outrage” is that Kitano gives us no great plot to hang on to. Each player in the deadly game is pursuing their own agendas; be it to create revenue, level-up in the yakuza hierarchy, or simply take out some petty revenge. There is no overriding plot, no clever plan. The gangsters are opportunists, nothing more, each trying to figure out how to advance with their fingers and lives intact. When a line is cut, that story ends completely.
“Outrage” seemed more authentic to the real, everyday operations of yakuza than most films in the genre. There are no super-killers or honorable outlaws. When I was watching the film, I found I didn’t root for any particular character. No matter who came out on top in the end, nothing changed. It would still be business as usual exploiting innocent people and taking without earning as much as you can.
In fact, this made me wonder at the title. There isn’t much “outrage” in the film itself, so maybe Kitano’s “outrage” is at the system that allows these bottom-feeders to exist. Or maybe it is Kitano’s “outrage” that he has to fall back on crowd-pleasing flicks when few people appreciated his Art. Or maybe he just thought “outrage” sounded cool.
The only issue I had with “Outrage” as a film was the pacing. The film got terribly slow in the middle, and a side-plot involving an illegal casino run out of an African embassy dragged on too long. I generally like Kintano’s pacing, with films like Fireworks and Sonatine balancing out the slow and bang-fast. Kitano’s trademark oddball humor was also entirely missing from “Outrage,” and while I didn’t want a lot of it a scene here and there would have been a welcome relief from the grim doings.