The last film I saw from Japanese powerhouse director Takeshi Kitano was his wonderful update of Zatoichi in 2003. Since then, he’s made a trio of more personal films that some have described as his ‘surrealist autobiographical’ trilogy: Takeshis’, Glory to the Filmmaker! and Achilles and the Tortoise. This film marks his return to more commercial territory, the yakuza film, in which scheming mob bosses and ambitious young thugs do battle on the street.
Kitano plays Otomo, a long-serving yakuza who’s seen a thing or two and runs his own crew of younger hoods. His boss is Ikemoto (Kunimura Jun), and his boss is Mr. Chairman (Kitamura Soichiro), who presides over the Sanno-kai, a huge empire of organised crime. The story begins with a gathering of all the family bosses at the Chairman’s headquarters, at which he chastises Ikemoto for his relationship with a rival gang, the Murase family — they’re not part of the Sanno-kai, and they’re dealing drugs on Ikemoto’s turf.
Ikemoto hands the job of keeping the Chairman happy to Otomo, who’s instructed to have his crew of young punks make trouble for Murase in a deniable way… of course we, the audience, know that these manoeuvrings have a way of escalating.
Outrage introduces a pile of characters quite quickly, and their actions often aren’t telegraphed ahead of time, so you’d better be paying attention if you want to keep track of the patchwork of shifting alliances — or if you just want to know why the lad on the floor is receiving a kicking. Kitano’s typically deadpan performance (punctuated with occasional bursts of violence or humour) doesn’t give much away either, though it’s as mesmerising as ever.
Other Kitano trademarks are on display, too. There’s a great deal of violence, often shot dead-on, as the yakuza take each other on or remorsefully remove the occasional digit. One or two scenes had me looking away from the TV; less bloodthirsty film fans, consider yourself warned. There’s also an undercurrent of wry, almost bleak, humour running through the film, which helps to fill out the characters and gives us a bit of a counterpoint to the cycle of vengeance and betrayal.
The film is well acted (by a group of actors who seem, on the DVD’s cast interview, somewhat awed to be working with Kitano) and well-shot, from the Chairman’s elegant seaside headquarters to the poky anonymous offices the yakuza conduct their business in. The mostly urban setting perhaps affords less scope for the slow pans and wide, static shots I remember from earlier films, but the occasional one does pop up, including an opening crawl past the assembled gangsters waiting by their cars for the conference to finish.
Outrage is a return to familiar territory for Kitano fans; and if you like this one, there’s a followup on the way later this year!