‘Outrage’ DVD – Film review

‘Outrage’ DVD (via Studiocanal)
Available 14th November 2011

First screened at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, auteur director/actor/scriptwriter/editor ”ËœBeat’ Takeshi Kitano’s superb yakuza gangster finally gets released in the UK ”“ albeit direct to DVD.

This is filmmaker Takeshi Kitano’s first yakuza mob movie since the underrated, predominantly English language picture Brother (2000), which was perhaps a metaphor for Japan’s World War II experience (Kitano’s gangster character who takes on the might of America’s Mafia is named Yamamoto), set in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Having explored dissimilar styles of genre pictures ”“the tragic love story Dolls (2002) and the traditional samurai picture Zatoichi (2003)- before demolishing his screen tough guy persona in the bizarre Takeshis’ (2005), Glory to the Filmmaker! (2007) and Achilles and the Tortoise (2008) ”“ Kitano returns to the Yakuza milieu that established his international reputation.

In Cannes the film received mixed reviews. Sight & Sound opined that Outrage was “racist, misogynist and casually violent” and “an ill-thought out tribute to early Fukasaku Kinji yakuza films.” Certainly the ruthless characters openly express such attitudes and proclivities (this is, after all, a Japanese Yakuza picture not a study of the members of a community workshop in Neasden), but that does not mean that Kitano condones them or that the viewer accepts their perspectives unchallenged. Like Kinji ”ËœBattle Royale’ Fukasaku’s classic 1970’s Yakuza films – Sympathy for the Underdog (which in part inspired Kintano’s 1993 break out picture in the west, Sonatine), Street Mobster and the Battles Without Honour and Humanity series ”“ Kitano emphasises the futility and hypocrisy of the internal yakuza gang wars and their total absence of chivalry and respect.

Outrage begins with a highly traditional Japanese formal meal held by the Sannokai crime syndicate, who rule the Kanto region, with diners in smart black suits, their every whim attended to by subservient waiters/bodyguards in white track suits. This symbolic display of the ordered yakuza chain of command and air of stability is soon shown to be nothing but a mere fantasy.
Sannokai chairman (Soichiro Kitamura) instructs underboss Kato (Tomokazu Miura) to warn subsidiary boss Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura) for being too involved with a less significant, outcast drug trafficking gang, Murase. “You can respect your brother,” Kato informs Ikemoto, “but your sworn father is more important.”

As Ikemoto has made a pact of brotherhood with Murase (Renji Ishibashi), he asks another auxiliary head Otomo (Takeshi Kitano) to do the job of ”Ëœintimidating’ Murase family head to ”Ëœrebuild’ the status quo between the families. Their actions ignite a brutal round of retaliations and turf wars, with each combatant trying to out trick the other for their own advancement, that also implicate a crooked Detective Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata) and an ambassador from a small African state.

The double and triple cross plots are highly complex, but the main message of Kitano’s picture is crystal clear ”“ the age-old rituals of honour (such as cutting off fingers) and the oath pledges of the yakuza are now utterly worthless. Personal gain outstrips everything else and possibly always has done. Extreme violent retribution, corruption and betrayal are the only constant factors operating within the yakuza society. Whether Kitano is also commenting upon current ”Ëœstraight’ Japanese mainstream society is deliberately unclear, but a possible interpretation.

Working without his regular company of actors for the first time, at the suggestion of producer Masauuki Mori, Kitano elicits great performances from each member of his ensemble cast. Every amoral character is distinctive but remote, mirroring the faceless modern cooperate yakuza organisation. Kitano’s trademark measured manner of direction and editing only heightens the tension of the drama and outbursts of action, while highlighting his own deadpan style of misanthropic gallows humour. Keiichi Suzuki’s moody score, punctuated by blasts of manic percussion, ratchets up the overall feeling of foreboding, while Katsumi Yanagijima’s CinamaScope cinematography offers a suitably muted plate which emphasizes the vivid red blood frequently split during numerous shootings, stabbings, finger chopping and a session of highly unorthodox dentistry.

It might not be Kitano’s most adventurous picture to date but if you are looking for a great contemporary gangster picture, look no further than Outrage. Hopefully, Kitano’s proposed sequel, due next year, will be even better.

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