Running time: 109 mins.
Reviewed by Eric Evans
For the first 30 minutes or so, “Outrage” feels very much like Takeshi Kitano rebooting his yakuza storytelling. With character actors like Susumu Terajima replaced in supporting roles by bigger names like Kase Ryo and music by Keiichi Suzuki rather than longtime collaborator Joe Hisaishi, the stage is certainly set for Kitano to do something different within the mob framework that’s familiar to him and his fans. Early on he does, starting with two long dolly shots—one that scans the faces of the dozens of Yakuza minions waiting outside a summit of family leaders, the other a shot that, despite movement, stays locked on Boss Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura). Without a word spoken we know who the boss is, and that his men (among whose number we see Kitano and Kippei Shiina) are dutiful soldiers. Combined with the somber rumble of the score (Suzuki also did the similarly percussive music for Kitano’s 2003 “Zatoichi”), “Outrage” has a fresh, snappy beginning that promises more than the film that follows can deliver. In fact, a third of the way through I thought Kitano was going for an almost satiric look at revenge, with each violent turn being more (forgive me) outrageous than the last. Renji Ishibashi has the funniest role of his career as singularly wronged lower-rung family boss Murase, and Kitano the director is at his freewheeling yet tense best whenever that character is onscreen. After that first act, however, it becomes clear that the film’s basic premise—mob bosses’ violent machinations against one another leading to further violence—doesn’t build toward anything, but is the film’s raison d’être. Tension doesn’t lead to resolution or anything else, and there’s no sense of a grand plan being set in motion: one character makes a phone call, another character shoots someone, and there is revenge. Repeat 8 or 9 times until just about everyone is dead. The end.
Kitano employs his trademark scowl-and-bellow routine as Otomo, a middling boss known for doing the dirty work. There’s none of the introspection from “Hana-Bi” or “Sonatine” here, just a workmanlike approach that frustratingly hints at more. A younger Kitano might have had fun with the role of Mizuno (Shiina), his chief lieutenant, or upstart Ishihara (a game but miscast Ryo) in that both roles allow for a bit more mischief, with Shiina in particular benefitting from being able to revel in his criminality. Kunimara likewise brings a spark to his role as the conniving boss of the clan, but for the most part this is an unhappy bunch. Kitano has never really glorified the mob in his films, but these Yakuza seem to do nothing but sit around yelling at one another, waiting to kill or be killed, posturing and acting tough. It’s unhelpful that many key roles are played by otherwise fine actors who have no business in the movie. Ryo’s presence as a clever up-and-comer is as awkward as his character’s phonetic English sounds, and despite their not-inconsiderable efforts both Tetta Sugimoto (Ozawa) and Tomokazu Miura (Kato) feel woefully out of place as heavies. Kitano may have upgraded his cast on paper, but it’s not hard to imagine some of those lesser-known guys he used to employ bringing more authenticity to these roles.
A long break after his mob films “Goodfellas” and “Casino”, Martin Scorcese returned to organized crime with a completely different cast and approach in “The Departed”, and while no masterpiece the result was both a fine addition to, and a marked departure from, his previous work. But rather than taking a page from Scorcese’s book and reinventing the genre he helped introduce to a worldwide audience, it’s as if Kitano took a single sequence from a lesser Yakuza film like “Brother” and played it out over and over again. He stages the realistic violence well and his characters’ many confrontations have the tension you’d expect from his better movies, but after the fourth or fifth such scene it begins to sink in that all Kitano’s going to do is rehash elements from those previous films, with different actors and no point. Kitano manages what I would have thought impossible from him: he somehow makes a crime film with lots of violence and yelling seem boring. It’s his most one-dimensional film since “Boiling Point” yet lacks that film’s narrative drive. And the less said about the clumsy embassy subplot, the better.
I walk into every movie with a desire to, and a belief that I will, enjoy myself. Like many people of a certain age my childhood experience with film was limited to what was on one of three TV channels and those rare and wonderful nights when my parents took me to the movies. VHS came along just as I went to junior high and I embraced the format as enthusiastically as anyone, but there’s still a bit of magic every time I go to a theater to see a movie. I get my box of Junior Mints and I expect to have a great time. If the film in question is by a director I usually enjoy that sense of positive expectation is heightened, which is perhaps unfair to the filmmaker. George Lucas famously explained the audience’s relative disappointment with the fourth Indiana Jones film by saying “after 19 years, we couldn’t possibly live up to everyone’s expectations.” Maybe not, but in that film there was a sense that much of what made Indy special was purposefully diluted. Takeshi Kitano’s “Outrage” has a similar problem. After a decade away from the genre that made him a critical darling and a number of personal (and despite what his apologists say, nearly unwatchable) films, Kitano hasn’t softened his approach and seems conscious of one-upping his crime film oeuvre, at least in terms of bloodshed. Yet he fails to bring the humanity of “Hana-Bi”, the wistful boyishness of “Sonatine”, or any other extra factors to bear upon “Outrage”. This film pushes Yakuza violence to a place of sickening excess, but that’s not enough. The film would have been a success with either soul or a plot. It utterly lacks both, and as a result feels hollow. I won’t deny how gratifying it was to see Kitano onscreen, black suited and gun in hand, but there’s gotta be more to it than that.