Outrage – Review
by Miguel Douglas on December 18, 2010
In the Tokyo underworld, dominated by the Sanno-kai crime organization & ruled by Chairman Sekuichi, rival clans clash for dominance while temporal alliances and betrayals become indistinguishable. Kato, the underboss of the Sanno-kai group, warns regional crime boss Ikemoto about his increasingly friendly dealings with rival regional crime boss Murase. In order to appease Chairman Sekuichi’s suspicions of any type of planned coup, Ikemoto orders Otomo, crime boss for the smaller Otomo group, to take action against the Murase group. What follows is a brutal game of retaliation as the three rival clans battle each other for control over territory.
World renowned as a one of Japan’s most prominent filmmakers, Takeshi Kitano has returned to the realm of the yakuza with his latest outing Outrage. Expectations for his return to the genre were certainly high and given the decade long time span between his last yakuza-based film, anticipation was certainly evident by the viewership. With perhaps some of his best films being known internationally, it should come at no surprise the hype surrounding his latest cinematic endeavor both domestically and abroad. Crafting some of the most poignant and brutal films within the genre, his impeccable style has been duplicated but never truly matched. With Outrage, we view Kitano returning to a level of familiarity accustom to his previous films—perhaps a little too much familiarity for its own welfare.
While Outrage is certain to please viewers who enjoy the genre for its utter brutality and nothing more, it’s almost complete lack of character development severely diminishes its impact as a yakuza piece. As viewed in his previous films such as Sonatine (1993), Fireworks (1997), and Brother (2000), Kitano was able to successfully elevate the genre by focusing on both the humanistic attributes of his characters coupled with the extremities of violence found within the underworld of the Japanese yakuza. For the most part, Outrage displays a complete detachment of emotion towards any of its characters, instead solely relying on Kitano’s trademark quip of outrageous violence to solidify the experience. Within the film characters are ascribed the archetypical role of a yakuza, a role that exercises itself in expressing violent behavior, crushing extortion, and excessive yelling. While these are all certainly staples within the genre, Kitano is seemingly content with portraying only these elements to arouse interest. We are given little to no background concerning these characters and their motives, which in turn disallows any sense of sympathy towards them and their inevitable disastrous fate.
But in portraying a world in which one small misunderstanding could lead to devastating consequences, the film does offer a look into the escalating violence concerning cause and effect within the yakuza underworld. The necessity to retaliate is explored almost methodically within the film, as we see how the characters actions affect those around them as well as themselves. While this is often times pushed to the most absurd lengths within the film, it does showcase the correlation between honor and organized crime that is supposedly so prevalent within the yakuza. If this is Kitano’s attempt to examine the chaotic nature of such an environment and the fragility of it, he does succeed in this regard. Honor is certainly a subjective notion within the film, where obtaining power through secretive negotiations and assassinations becomes the standard. Is honor amongst the yakuza a thing of the past? Is the pursuit of power only but an endless cycle that repeats itself? These are all questions that Kitano raises quite frequently throughout the film, but doesn’t seemingly want to commit to exploring it any further, instead resorting to displaying senseless violence to quell the viewer over.
What does bode well throughout the film though is its dark humor, an element that has always been one of Kitano’s strong points. Interspersed throughout the film between moments of violence—and in many cases, within moments of such—the film’s ability to effectively mix violence with that of comedy is present, but is bizarrely inserted at times. There are moments where it’s truly hard to distinguish between the two, and differing results definitely begin immerging concerning its usage. Its appropriateness, while certainly applicable given the situations that arise in the film, is not entirely effective. It’s seemingly removed during the film’s latter half to make way for drama, which makes for a surprising juxtaposition that should’ve remained in some capacity to alleviate some of the structural problems found within the plot. These plot deficiencies become more specific as the film progresses, cultivating in a conclusion that can almost be described as a deus ex machina. It’s hard to imagine any of the characters taking life seriously, mainly because they simply don’t express any desire to do so. Getting involved in one precarious situation after another is simply foolish—if this is Kitano’s true intention, he certainly doesn’t play it out well.
While generic in almost every form, Outrage is simply a film that is entirely too predictable. Kitano establishes nothing new in terms of creativity, originality, or even comically, going as far as having an ending that seems entirely contrived for the sake of simply tying up loose ends. Perhaps if Kitano had taken more time to develop a well thought-out story—instead of relying on displaying acts of violence—then the impact of the film would’ve been greater. We do still see Kitano’s use of dark humor to illuminate some of the film’s more disturbing parts, but it’s certainly not enough to save the film from being another tired exploration of yakuza politics. There are hints of Kitano’s ability to focus on important themes within the yakuza—especially that of questioning the notion of honor—which have made his previous films quite distinguishable. Couple this with his stylish approach towards filming a scene, and the film works in some capacity, but regardless of Kitano’s stylistic touch, the story significantly lacks the foundation to be interesting or even logical for that matter. Given his past film experience, Kitano should have understood the pitfalls of the genre and make a serious attempt to avoid them, which he sadly doesn’t. What’s ultimately disheartening about Outrage is that it showcases Kitano at one of his lowest points in terms of being a writer, an attribute he has successfully proven adept to in the past and is certainly more capable of than what’s displayed here.