PFF 2010: OUTRAGE
This is yet another film that's sure to place me at opposing odds with other ScreenAnarchy writers and readers. While many have claimed this to be a return to form for Kitano, I can't help but assume that the majority of positive reviews are largely based on nostalgia. This is Takeshi Kitano's first yakuza film in ten years. And for most, Brother doesn't count. Knowing that a sequel was already in the works for this and being a large fan of Hanabi, Sonatine, and Violent Cop, my expectations were admittingly high, maybe too high.
The film opens on a formal yakuza gathering where we're introduced to Mr. Chairman, an oyabun who oversees multiple mob families and gangs. Mr. Chairman casually suggests that boss Ikemoto cut his ties with his sworn brother and rival gang boss, Masuke. Boss Masuke is a drug runner, and Mr. Chairman does not want the family's name tarnished with any affiliation to such illicit activities. Ikemoto recruits the help of Boss Otomo (Takeshi Kitano) to start a minor turf war with Masuke and thus starts a violent domino effect that will leave every character dead by the end.
Mr. Chairman uses his stature within a rigid hierarchy to pit Ikemoto, Otomo, Masuke, and many other bosses against each other. In many ways, Outrage plays out like a parody of classic yakuza & samurai films and a satire of Japanese formality. A lot of people are ruthlessly and pointlessly beaten up, pinkie fingers are severed, and many die in accordance to almost nonsensical customs rooted Japanese tradition. The problem is that the film's tone is far too serious to play for laughs, and yet it's simply too cliché to make for compelling viewing as a drama or thriller.
The majority of the film is nothing more than old men in Outrageous suits sitting in bare rooms, bulging their eyes, and yelling at each other with someone getting violently whacked every twenty minutes or so. It's all silly macho Japanese male posturing without any real momentum. "The Men Who Roll Their Tongues" would be a suitably more appropriate title for the film. While everyone spends most the time yelling at each other, no one ever seems Outraged, all of the bosses seem aware and are largely complacent with their manipulation by Mr. Chairman.
It is possible to suggest that the film is a comment on corruption and the absolute idiocy built within the Japanese bureaucratic system. The yakuza, police, and high ranking politicians are all closely intertwined. The line between authority and criminal is far more blurred in Japanese society than even the U.S.. In many cities, most yakuza offices are located in the same buildings as the kobans (police stations). If you're interested in yakuza culture, I highly recommend reading Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein & Yakuza by David Kaplan.
Or maybe the film's title suggests an Outrage towards Western influence. In many ways, the yakuza is the modern day result of the dissolvement of the shogunate. Most yakuza believe themselves to be direct descendants of the samurai class. Yet, the characters in this film act like buffoons. An extended shot of prison inmates playing baseball towards the end could possibly be constructed as some type of statement regarding the American occupation of Japan and the loss of the Japanese way.
Regardless, we know what's going to happen from the very first the scene. We know Mr. Chairman is going use all of the gangs against each other until no one is left standing, and that's exactly what happens. This isn't the best film to build a franchise out of. There's no suspense or even any element of surprise nor are there any character arcs. This isn't the story of a criminal's rise to power or fall from grace. With a convoluted storyline featuring far too many characters to follow without a single one of them being likeable or even memorable, and with no one given to even root for, Outrage is simply a chore to get through. There's nothing at stake in this conflict.
While deliberately glacier pacing is a common characteristic of Japanese cinema and is to be expected, Outrage largely feels stagnant. And beyond all of that, this is a sloppily directed film with a shocking bit of unintended (or is it?) racism. Many of the guns look like plastic toys. Yakuza members fire revolvers in slow motion where we can visibly see that there are no rounds in the chambers. There are long lingering shots of numerous dead bodies where actors are clearly still breathing. Not without a few striking images and outstanding moments, there's a general laziness to the proceedings. And even the film's most visually enticing and cinematic scene hardly makes any sense.
As mentioned earlier, there is a shockingly offensive African character. An ambassador for a small African embassy is duped by the yakuza to run a casino out of his building since it's outside Japanese police jurisdiction. The acting here is embarrassing and the character is played for comedic relief. He's a cowardly, wide eyed, bumbling idiot whose portrayal is almost Vaudevillian. This is a character played as a crude and demeaning minstrel show for the tough yakuza to humiliate. ICK!
There are enough positive aspects on display that Outrage can be recommended for the diehard fans of this particular genre, but don't set your expectations too high. Fireworks this is not.