Takashi Miike is the quintessential maverick film maker who just happens to have made a number of films about quintessentially maverick psychos. There is, no doubt, a connection, but Deadly Outlaw Rekka, for all its occasional bent humour and oddities, is actually one of Miike’s more straight forward efforts.
Like much of Miike’s yakuza work the film opens in a blaze of violence. We watch a series of fast seemingly unrelated cuts which jump in time but mainly focus on the death of a wild haired yakuza gang leader. He does not go gracefully into the good night: while rattling around in his death throes he wraps his hands around the throat of one of his two assassins. With typical mordant Miike humour, the assassin is forced to cut off the hands and wear them around his neck until they eventually fall off. Nice! That’s accessorising for you.
The dead leader turns out to be a kind of father figure to Kunisada (Rikki Takeuchi), a murderous thug whose hair trigger temper is blamed on his being ‘half-Korean’! To be precise, Kunisada is a beserker. When enraged he pulls blank-eyed whack job faces and seems to enter a trance like state where the only type of human interaction he is capable of involves tyre irons, fists and guns.
Takeuchi’s Kunisada is a bruising presence. Stuck in the same deteriorating clothes throughout the film, dyeing his oddly coiffured hair a peculiar shade of blonde (for no apparent reason) and with a face that is both soft and threatening, he is a graceless figure who nonetheless is endearing enough to actually strike up a romantic, if damaged, relationship and inspire stoic loyalty amongst his friends.
This all helps to give the character a measure of sympathy. So too does his simple code of honour – one bound by loyalty and vengeance and in direct contrast to the double-dealings of those further up the yakuza chain.
Most of these dealing are complex, wordy and, quite frankly, a little hard to follow. This is probably half the point — you don’t quite know who is diddling who in this film except that they are all out to use and then destroy Kunisada. So you find yourself shouting ‘Go team!’ when ever Kuni and his partner, played by Kenichi Endo, kick the bejesus out of those out to get them.
It’s strange touches like these that carry the film through the low patches. Much of Deadly Outlaw Rekka is just a little too dawdling. Miike’s humour is still wonderfully intact though — loved the nude assassin moment and the use of the rocket launcher is nicely over the top. As for the close of the film (including one strikingly nuts moment involving the ‘ghost’ of Kunisada’s former boss that makes almost no sense whatsoever) and the resultant coda, these are quite terrific, even if they place the film firmly in some kind of surreal world where the violence is cartoon-like, without any serious consequences. You almost expect a Proton Energy Pill to be popped somewhere.
Oh, and it is worth mentioning the music. It’s an all over the shop mutant mix of garage metal, horrible riffing and sci-fi falsetto melodies. Compelling, then, in a way you just can’t put your finger on, much like the rest of the film.