My first film at this year’s Sydney Film Festival was Outrage Beyond, the great Japanese director Takeshi Kitano’s follow-up to 2010’s yakuza film Outrage. Set in the same universe of gangsters in pinstripes, black sedans and sudden violence, it picks up the story some years after the events of the first film.
The story begins with the police pulling a car containing a body out of the harbour. The victim was one of their own; specifically, an organised crime detective, and it’s no particular surprise to learn that this was a hit, the apparent work of the Sanno crime syndicate. Since the first film — where they were already hugely powerful — the Sanno have grown even bigger, dipping their tattooed toes into both international finance and Japanese politics.
Charged with investigating his colleague’s death and with doing something about the Sanno is organised crime specialist Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata), who’s grown more self-assured and ambitious. For the first half of the film, Kataoka is very busy — accepting bribes, revealing secrets to gangsters from several different families, waking up retired yakuza and reminding them of the grudges they never really did anything about. His efforts to precipitate a gang war, though, really need one critical element unleashed: old-school yakuza firebrand Otomo (Takeshi Kitano), who’s serving a stretch in prison, though that’s nothing a motivated policemen with an ear on the parole board can’t solve.
Beyond eschews the original Outrage‘s focus on Otomo’s exploits, at least for quite some time — we don’t even see Kitano’s penetrating gaze for the first half of the film. Instead, the film leisurely develops all the other characters: particularly scheming detective Kataoka and his grumpy partner Shigeta (Yutaka Matsushige), yakuza soldier Tomita (Akira Nakao), who’s been passed over for the position of Sanno underboss, and the other figures at the top of the Sanno org chart, boss Kato (Tomokazu Miura) and nutcase second-in-command Ishihara (Ryo Kase). With his director’s hat on, Kitano defines all his characters and the political landscape of the film before he makes his own entrance as Otomo, who we know (at the very least through Kataoka’s madly expectant smile) will bring mayhem and destruction to all those carefully negotiated alliances.
Aside from the differences in structure, Beyond is very much of a piece with its predecessor. The gliding cinematography (from frequent Kitano collaborator Katsumi Yanagishima) and unusual soundtrack (from Keiichi Suzuki) don’t break with the style of the first film, and there are again a few bravura moments of violence (consider this your warning!) that drew gasps and a few faces buried in hands in the cinema around me. Again, though, all the violence and shouting is shot through with a typically dark sense of humour, which makes it much more palatable, even occasionally very funny.
Kitano makes more explicit the connections between the world of the yakuza and the “civilian” world in this film; it’s taken as a given by most of the characters that Detective Kataoka knows members of all the major families on his turf and routinely ignores the rules to get results. The higher echelons of the Sanno now call themselves executives and are instructed to put their effort into more profitable enterprises these days… like hedge fund management. Political party underlings make clandestine visits to mobsters to ask them to consider not murdering their political opponents quite so visibly.
Outrage Beyond is another solid film from Kitano in the genre many of us love him for. Though it’s more dialogue-heavy and unfolds at a more leisurely pace than its predecessor, it’s every bit as entertaining all the way to the (terrific) final shot.