By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Takeshi Kitano’s new film “Outrage” opens with the camera panning slowly across a group of men slouching against luxury cars, some fanning themselves in the heat. They are the yakuza promised in the film’s advance publicity, but they are not stylish. They do not immediately look dangerous.
The filmmaker loses sight of many things in this disappointing film, but this new look at the Japanese gangsters’ world, a realistic and anti-romantic view going against the grain of earlier yakuza movies, is the one thing he gets right.
The men outside are waiting for their bosses inside the building to finish business. They take their orders from the supreme boss, “Mr. Chairman” (played by Sôichirô Kitamura), and the meeting isn’t over until he says, “We’re done here.”
Takeshi Kitano’s own character, Otomo, isn’t invited in. He gets to wait outside with the other flunkies, although he runs a crew of savagely violent men, who help the bosses get things done.
Kitano is legendary in Japanese cinema for his stone face. Here, directing himself, he fashions a character that is actually a little bit more accessible. The character is at first, at least, a little more warm than many of his classic yakuza characters.
Otomo does not wear Kitano’s trademark sunglasses, and the actor’s wide, dark eyes help to convey Otomo’s increasing disbelief and rage over how he’s being treated. The plain, light-colored clothing Otomo often wears tends to make him fade into the background. He’s struggling to stand out, but he has to fight the bosses, and sometimes his own underlings, to do so.
But Kitano’s largest mistake lies in his own screenplay for “Outrage.” First, the viewer never gets a strong sense of who he is fighting and why. The undergang rivalries go around and around, bodies piling up every new cycle. No one, until it’s much too late, goes to Mr. Chairman to ask what to do. The yakuza gang members seem content to bash one another until one emerges victorious from the grue.
And this film sports quite a lot of grue. Kitano apparently wants to make a point about the “new ways” of the yakuza, but mainly serves up classic yakuza mutilation and torture.
Knives, guns, fists, feet, and even a dentist’s drill come into play as blood splatters across the screen. Kitano’s known for his grim sense of humor, but even he can’t render systematic mutilation funny.
The gangsters live in a sealed-off macho world (and it is strictly a male-dominated world; the women in “Outrage” are gangster wives, geishas, Playboy bunnies, and hookers). They hurt each other so much, so profoundly, that violence seems to be their only method of communication. They speak in clipped-off barks of rage, calling each other obscenities. Any form of higher eloquence seems closed off to them.
Kitano and his cinematographer, Katsumi Yanagijima, manage a fine, distinctive look to “Outrage,” full of oblique color arrangements and sinister shadows lurking on the sides of the frame. But ultimately, Kitano gives the camera nothing worthwhile to shoot.
These are mindlessly violent men, interested only in sadism and one-upmanship. They can’t hold the viewer’s interest with their words, and their deeds quickly turn reprehensible.
Kitano remains one of Japan’s most prolific and multi-faceted filmmakers. He announced “Outrage” as a way of getting back to his roots, so to speak, in the yakuza film.
Here’s hoping that he finds a way to grow upward and outward again. (end)
“Outrage” opens Friday, Dec. 16, at Seattle’s Varsity Theatre, 4329 University Way N.E. in Seattle’s University District. Call 206-781-5755 for prices and show times.