Takeshi Kitano, aka “Beat” Takeshi, returns to the yakuza genre with Outrage, his fifteenth film. First known as a TV comic, Kitano has carved himself a space in the upper echelons of the art house film world, perhaps most notably with his 1997 Venice Golden Lion-winning Hana-bi (Fireworks). He’s made a variety of films, all with his patented humor and often with deadpan silence and his singular brand of flashy violence.
In a sense, Outrage is little different than many of his previous yakuza films. His compositions are formal and elegant, the violence is quick and memorable, the characters are quiet, angry and tough. What he’s tried differently in this film, however, is to make an ensemble piece where several characters are weighted similarly. Though an experiment worth trying, Outrage ultimately leaves the viewer cold.
The plot revolves around two yakuza clans in Tokyo who report to one boss. During a stint in prison, one clan head, Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura), has made a pact with an outsider, Murase (Renji Ishibashi). Once out of prison, and after being warned against the wisdom of this alliance, Ikemoto orders a subordinate, Ôtomo (Takeshi Kitano), to handle Murase, a betrayal that sets off a series of retaliatory strikes, violence and further betrayals. Soon, no one is safe, and everyone is scurrying for more power or their lives.
Kitano reportedly used a chart with arrows to properly keep track of actors, the characters they played and their respective places in the film. The viewer may need a chart as well to keep track of the intertwining relationships, multiple characters and rampant backstabbing. There’s no clear protagonist in the film, and Kitano has said that that’s the way he wanted it—that he thought the film would lose dynamism if it gave more weight to any one character. What results is a complicated web of violence and betrayal that plays out abstractly. It’s an interesting exercise but one that makes it difficult to sympathize with anyone and therefore care about what’s happening onscreen. As a result, when the characters are being threatened (and in most cases killed), it has little emotional impact. That’s not to say the violence isn’t memorable—a scene where a thug gets stabbed in the ear by chopsticks comes to mind—but it carries little weight beyond the moment in which it occurs.
In the end, Outrage sacrifices audience involvement in the interest of an experimentation with form. The result, while by no means an outrage, is nonetheless somewhat of a shame.
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano (screenplay)
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Kippei Shiina, Ryo Kase
Release Date: Dec. 2, 2011 (limited)