Tuesday, October 11, 2011

DVD Review: Outrage

Outrage ** ½
Directed by: Takeshi Kitano.
Written by: Takeshi Kitano.
Starring: Takeshi Kitano (Ôtomo), Kippei Shiina (Mizuno), Ryo Kase (Ishihara), Tomokazu Miura (Katô), Jun Kunimura (Ikemoto), Tetta Sugimoto (Ozawa), Takashi Tsukamoto (Iizuka), Yuka Itaya (Otomo's woman), Hideo Nakano (Kimura), Renji Ishibashi (Murase), Fumiyo Kohinata (Kataoka), Sôichirô Kitamura (Kan'nai).

Takeshi Kitano has made a good living making crime movies in Japan, which are just slightly different from most. His first film, Violent Cop (1989), was more standard, but still a brilliant examination of a cop pushed beyond the breaking point until he cracks. His more famous films, Fireworks and Sontatine (both released here in 1996) were even better – slower paced movies punctuated by split seconds of brutal violence. His most famous film may well have been his 2004 remake of Zatoitchi, the blind swordsman, which maintained the brutal violence and offbeat humor of Kitano’s films. But after Zatoichi, Kitano seemed to go in a different direction. If his films Takeshis, Glory to the Filmmaker or Achilles and the Tortoise got North American releases or much international acclaim, I certainly missed it. So it’s not surprising that he returned to the crime genre to make his latest film, Outrage. Filmmakers who have a few failures under their belt often do go back to what made them famous in the first place. And while Outrage is a decent enough crime film, about the Yakuza, I couldn’t help but wonder while I was watching the film if what I was seeing was all there is. Kitano has made some brilliant films in this genre in the past, and Outrage just seems to be him going through the motions. Apparently it worked in Japan, as he is currently working on Outrage 2 – although who from the first movie is left to populate a sequel, I have no idea. For me, I was disappointed that Kitano’s return to the genre that made him famous seemed so by the numbers.

The Chairman is not happy with Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura), who is far too close with Murase (Renji Ishibashi) for his liking. Ikemoto is part of the chairman’s family, and Murase is not, even though he has built up a nice little business for himself, and Ikemoto is taking a part of that profit. The Chairman doesn’t like how Murase deals in drugs, and wants him eliminated. But more than anything, he just wants to remind Ikemoto who is in charge. For the Chairman of this Yakuza family, he has to constantly fend off people who may think he’s weak, so he needs to flex his muscle every now and then.

Ikemoto doesn’t really wanted to break with Murase, but he wants to show the Chairman that his main loyalty lies with him, and not Murase. So he sets up one of his own men to be taken advantage of by some of Murase’s men, thus causing a minor disagreement between Ikemoto and Murase, and showing that they two aren’t joined at the hip. Some minor altercations will occur, but mainly, things will continue as they were before. Everything is being done just for appearances sake. And then, things spiral out of control.

One insult is met with another insult, and slowly the repercussions of these insults escalate. At first, it’s just some money and an underling’s finger that are offered in payment for the insult. But gradually, people start being killed – but as long as they are far enough down the food chain, things still can go back to normal. But then underbosses start getting killed – and bosses maimed, and soon there is a whole scale mob war going on, that no one really wanted, and could probably not even tell you how it all got started.

Kitano stars as one of Ikemoto’s underlings – who liked everyone else in the movie, sees this building gang war as an opportunity to advance himself. I’m not sure Kitano is really the star of the movie – the focus shifts constantly throughout the film, and I don’t really think he has any more screen time than many other characters, but he is the one face we recognize throughout. He’s fine in the role, but it certainly doesn’t challenge him.

There is an absurdity about Outrage that borders on comedy at times. Everyone in the film acts, well, outraged, most of the time, although for the most part, they really aren’t as upset as they pretend to be at the insults and slights happening throughout the film. They are simply using it as an excuse to kill and maim each other, for their own advancement. And yes, Outrage is as bloody as they come. If you simply want to sit back and watch people kill each other, with geysers of blood shooting up all over the place, than Outrage will probably satisfy you. But for me, this is the type of film that Kitano could do in his sleep – and probably do better than this. It isn’t that there is anything really wrong with Outrage – it’s just that when you’re Kitano, you’ve set the bar pretty high for a movie like this. And when the result is Outrage, I can’t help but be somewhat disappointed.

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