a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Outrage / アウトレイジ

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In Outrage, Takeshi Kitano’s 15th feature and much talked about return to yakuza movies, he seems beaten by the very genre that he vitalized with the likes of Sonatine and Hana-bi. One major thing missing in Outrage is a central character that the viewer can identify with, even if irredeemable and evil. Takeshi, at his best, forefronts himself – taciturn, controlled, teetering on the edge of madness, but always with a yakuza code of honor in his heart. In Outrage, he takes a side role and directs all the characters as conniving thugs, even if well dressed or surrounded by the trappings of money. This may be a truism of yakuza life, but for the purposes of narrative it makes for dull progress. Not to say that the screen isn’t filled with a fine cast, all with great faces. Jun Kimura (Hana no ato, King of the Jail Breakers), who makes beer ads look interesting, is a standout as the manipulative Ikemoto and Fumiyo Kohinata (Sideways) plays a perfectly slithery and despicable cop on the take. Takeshi’s direction in ensemble bits is top notch – where tell-tale facial tics and the unspoken counter and illuminate the tirade of macho posturing and yelling that make up much of the dialogue. A convoluted plot centers around the big Tokyo racket and crime-controlling Sanno-kai and three sub-clans, the Ikemoto, the Otomo (headed by Takeshi), and the Murase. Internecine war breaks out between them, with countless double-crossings and manipulations. A strange and fruitless subplot also breaks out concerning the blackmailing of an African diplomat. Whether it shows the reach of the yakuza or judgment on a black man who sleeps with a Japanese woman is left up to question. But its inclusion is surely questionable. As for Takeshi’s well-regarded take on cinema violence, his signature style of random and sudden cruelty seems tired. Haven’t we seen chopsticks thrust in ears before?  His scenes of slow-mo dancing corpses are tried and true Peckinpah-isms that seem to work best. However, he saves his most baroque killing for one character, Mizuno (Kippei Shiina), the only one in any clan that seems to live with a bit of an old fashioned code of honor.  No good, or bad deed goes unpunished in this world. Once the mayhem subsides – and nearly everyone gets their comeuppance – a new order of the last remaining survivors takes the reigns.  One can admire Takeshi for taking the romance out of a genre that traditionally celebrates outlaw myths and the cult of individuality. By showing a stupid and senseless world more akin to and aligned with corporate or political culture, Takeshi has grabbed on to the zeitgeist of the times. It doesn’t necessarily make for good movies.

Originally published in EL Magazine, June 2010

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

June 1, 2010 at 3:19 am

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