The Japanese yakuza movies of Takeshi Kitano, aka Beat Takeshi, are sort of like wasabi—extremely pungent and definitely an acquired taste. But for those who have learned to savor his slick exercises in simmering menace and carefully choreographed mayhem will certainly embrace this latest example. “Outrage” is cleaner and more direct a genre piece than his last outing in the genre, the Los Angeles-based “Brother” (2000), and his fans will eat it up.
Kitano’s scenario is at once simple and complicated. On the one hand, it’s basically a clandestine gang war in which the heads of various crime families conspire against one another, using manipulation, double-crosses and extreme violence in pursuit of their goals. On the other, the schemes they plot are convoluted and multi-layered, and in the end nobody can trust anyone else—not even sworn allies or supposedly loyal underlings.
At the center of it all is Otomo (Takeshi), a brutal but canny thug who’s called into action when his boss Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura) is questioned by the overboss of the entire operation, a quietly threatening, Nehru-jacketed fellow simply called the chairman (Soichiro Kitamura) about his gang’s collaboration with Murase (Renji Ishibashi), whom Ikemoto had met in prison but whose group is part of a rival faction. Ikemoto calls on Otomo, a hard-nosed lieutenant of the old school, to handle things, and he responds by setting gang against gang and boss against boss. A small army of lesser players are caught up in the aftermath, including Mizuno (Ryo Kase), Otomo’s tightly controlled lieutenant, and Ozawa (Tetta Sugimoto), Ikemoto’s ruthless chief aide. And there’s a corrupt cop and an African diplomat coerced into doing the underworld’s will in the mix as well.
But the raison d’etre of “Outrage” isn’t plot or logic. It lies simply in providing the occasion for a succession of violent set-pieces mostly involving guns—both pistols and automatic rifles—but occasionally other modes of dispatch like cars, knives and even, on one occasion, a poisonous snake. There are beatings galore, and particularly gruesome sequences involving the bloody extraction of teeth and a severed tongue. Suffice it to say this is no movie for the faint-hearted; and by the end you might have difficulty in identifying the killers and the victims. As for motive and the method behind the madness, that’s often even more obscure.
But it doesn’t really matter, since except for Otomo, Mizuno, and a few others, the myriad characters are merely present to serve as fodder for the baroque executions that Tikano rejoices in contriving and then filming in concert with ace cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima, whose widescreen images are sleek and whose camerawork is smooth—and who apparently loves slow motion, “Bonnie and Clyde” style. Acting is hardly the point here, but Takeshi has fun squinting and howling his way through the film, and Kase is especially strong in a part that demands cool restraint.
Anyone looking for deep meanings or moralistic lessons should look elsewhere. But if a bracing brew of criminal connivance and exquisite bloodletting is to your liking, Takeshi certainly provides it.