May 17, 2010 / 11:40 PM / 9 years ago

"Outrage" a bona fide yakuza film

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - As violent, amoral and misanthropic as a Jacobean play, “Outrage” is Takeshi Kitano’s first yakuza flick since “Brother” (2000).

Cleansed of his pretentious navel-gazing in recent years, “Outrage” burst with the direct cinematic power of his early works (“A Violent Cop,” “Sonatine”), though his style is less minimalist and characters less taciturn. In fact, his representation of internecine gang rivalry and imploding power structure stands up to Kinji Fukasaku’s seminal “Battle Without Honor” series in complexity and unsentimental attitude, with humor as mean and dry as a straight-up martini.

Commercially, the screenplay’s sprawling structure and absence of traditional, balletic showdowns might not satisfy mainstream appetites. However, individual nerve-tingling scenes of violence will make the film reach beyond Kitano’s art house admirers to lovers of genre and noir films.

“Outrage” opens with a traditional Japanese banquet held by the Sanno-kai crime syndicate, with guests in neat black suits and waiters in white track suits serving them. This emblematic exhibition of hierarchy and order is but an illusion, and the finale ironically stages a beach barbecue where everyone gets fried.

Underboss Kato (Tomokazu Miura) ticks off subsidiary boss Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura) for being too close with lesser, outsider gang, Murase. Since Ikemoto has made a pact of brotherhood with Murase, he asks another subsidiary head Otomo (Kitano, aka Beat Takeshi) to do the dirty work of roughing up Murase. Their actions trigger a vicious circle of vendettas and turf wars that also implicate a corrupt cop and an African ambassador.

The double-crossings are convoluted beyond description, but the film is forceful in its simplicity and clarity of vision — personal interest trumps any ties or pledges in the yakuza creed. Finger cutting occurs at every other scene, but they have lost their worth as rituals of honorable apology whereas the real violence is ignominious and each execution outdoes itself in cruelty. Kitano provokes viewers by designing violence that makes us giggle out of nervousness, like a scene in a dentist’s chair that parodies “The Marathon Man.” But the cyclical conflicts gives the narrative a flat tempo with no high point or catharsis.

The veteran members of the ensemble cast who seldom appear in yakuza roles (except Renji Ishibashi) are distinct yet impersonal. Ryo Kase, who usually plays the mellow guy next door forges a new image as a cocky gangster with comic timing for wisecracks in English.

Kitano’s own editing is elaborate yet precise at the same time. Costume design achieves a matching effect with combinations of black, white, gray achieving an epitome of cool.

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