Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2010.
“Outrage” may be Takeshi Kitano’s return to the yakuza movie on which his international reputation as a filmmaker was built, but it’s not a return to the elegiac, melancholy tone those movies embraced. When the killing starts, and there is a lot of killing, it arrives with a shrug of inevitability — what, did anyone really expect these duplicitous, aggressive, violent men to get along? “Outrage” may come up empty in the end, but it’s an entertaining ride to nowhere that pokes fun at the ritual and rules that its characters pretend to abide by even as they ruthlessly stab each other in the back.
The first domino falls when Ikemoto (Kunimura Jun), the head of a gang that’s part of the Sanno-kai, a larger crime syndicate, is taken to task by the chairman (Kitamura Soichiro) because he’s been partnering up with another gang, headed up by Murase (Renji Ishibashi), that’s not part of their organization. Ikemoto and Murase formed a partnership when they were in prison together, but in order to demonstrate to his boss that they’re not that cozy, Ikemoto sends his own subordinate Otomo (Kitano) to subtly pick a fight.
That scene defines the bluster and double-dealing that will follow — one of Otomo’s men pretends to be a guileless salaryman and allows himself to get pulled into a nightclub scam run by some of Murase’s low-level thugs. A young yakuza bullies him all the way back to the Otomo gang’s office, where he realizes exactly who he’s netted and is immediately cowed by the trouble he’s gotten himself and his colleagues in. Trying to preserve the pact between the two gangs, Murase orders the lieutenant responsible for the scheme to make amends by cutting off his finger. It won’t be the last digit chopped before the credits roll.
“Outrage”‘s portrayal of underworld loyalty as a lie, a gloss obscuring a dog-eat-dog world of greed, arrogance and territoriality, isn’t exactly unheard of — it’s much rarer these days to find a film that actually buys into the mythology of honor among organized criminals, and “Outrage” at times seems like a less fleet-footed Japanese cousin to Johnnie To’s similar “Election” films. But “Outrage” is remarkable for the way its characters use yakuza organization and structure against each other. It’s got to be one of the most passive aggressive mobster movies of all time, with gangsters refusing apologies in order to escalate conflicts they actually started and sending their men out on nefarious errands they then claim to have no prior knowledge of to the aggrieved party.
Plot machinations take the place of developing any members of the large cast of characters — the only standouts are Ryo Kase (“Letters from Iwo Jima”) as the gang’s sardonic head of finances and Kitano himself, whose bluff presence fits the midlevel Otomo, a man baffled but not surprised to find himself maneuvered into increasingly undesirable situations.
“Outrage” currently has no US distribution.