Director - Kitano Takeshi
Kitano returns to familiar ground with mixed results.
After giving us the traditional samurai story inverted in Zatoichi 2003, Kitano embarked on a series of fleetingly interesting but indulgent, introspective analyses of the jarring sides of his personality; Beat Takeshi, prime-time comedy clown, and Kitano Takeshi, Golden Lion winning, minimalist art-house director (Takeshis 2005, Glory to the Film-Maker 2007 and Achilles and the Tortoise 2008). Kitano has been noticeably absent from the yakuza genre since Hana-Bi in 1997 (unless you include the mis-hit Brother 2000). So it was a welcome surprise to see him coming full circle.
The story; of rival clans, bickering, dropping bodies and giving ever increasingly large wads of cash in retribution to the man at the top, though nothing revolutionary, is well paced. The film is essentially a series of murders and retaliation, followed by the contrast of these testosterone fuelled men bowing down and begging for forgiveness like kids at a primary school. This dynamic is amusing but not enough is made of the absurdity of it all. Though the increasing velocity does draw you inwards it doesn't make you care. The constant shouting gets a bit wearing as the film goes on with scene after scene of screaming red-faced gangsters. The characters continue to die ever more increasingly graphic, brutal deaths but you can't help be detached, well apart from the bit at the dentist.
The film is very claustrophobic, flittering between the seedy yakuza offices and the dingy hostess bars, and the staid, tranquility of the yakuza boss's traditional Japanese mansion, the outside world is almost forgotten. In one instance it is even distorted, as when Kitano creates a fictitious African country for his yakuzas to extort. It is a strange decision made even odder by the appalling acting from the imagined countries ambassador. You don't know whether something was lost in translation with the direction or the script here, but it becomes unintentional slapstick. You watch from behind your fingers whenever he is on screen; not squeamish from the chopped fingers and severed heads but the high-school play acting. It's a shame as it could have been an interesting plot device. Instead, it is a disaster.
The playful nature of Kitano's previous yakuza films, with their dream-like sequences and eccentricities are gone. Even the Kitano character;the suicidal, existential leader, that dominated all those great films isn't there. This ensemble piece only offers mere glimpses of what makes him special. In the preliminaries of one melee with all the yakuzas engaged in a relentless shouting match, the cameras closes in on Kitano and he gives us a knowing smile, just when you're starting to question whether he's intending everything to be so ridiculously masculine. This for me is the main problem with what is a mediocre offering. The intrigue he created in an solid stream of quirky yakuza movies is barely there and the weight of expectation amplifies this. Remember that scene where they are pretending to be paper sumo wrestlers on the beach in Sonatine 1993, don't expect anything like that.
Outrage is not a bad film. It all looks very sleek and impressive. There are some good scenes; the procession of cars drifting down the road with the pumping synth soundtrack stays in the memory. Though beneath all the bravado it's just empty. Despite the violence, this film is a major step into the mainstream and just as with Brother it dilutes the essence of his style. Having given Kitano the benefit of the doubt through his slightly self-indulgent art-house offerings, back in familiar territory you expected something of a higher caliber.