Outrage (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Outrage (2011)

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Back in my younger days when I started my film tastes beyond the borders of America I stumbled upon a greatly entertaining remake of the old Zatoichi films by Takeshi "Beat" Kitano.  I admired the swordplay greatly, as Kitano favors the sudden flash of skillful violence rather than the elegant ballet of early John Woo or extended, yet artistic and appropriate, torture found in much of Korean directors output.  Then I found Sonatine and Habi-bi (Fireworks) and I was firmly in love.  Kitano turned a physical ailment (paralyzed nerve from a car accident) into a stylistic wonder, churning out mostly silent examinations of violence in a pointless cycle perpetuating itself.

Outrage is intended as a return to form of sorts.  Kitano himself has gone on record saying the slightly more risky and artistic projects he was attempting weren't keeping him afloat and desired commercial success.  To this end he began making Outrage where he mistakenly thought his true talent is, by crafting the scenes of violence first and then trying to fit a story around the images later.

The result is occasionally pretty but deeply unsatisfying, a confusing mess of Yakuza on Yakuza violence with no clear victor, moral, or stable ideas present.  It's a visually conservative version of the old carnival geek show where you'd see a strongman bend bars or the lunatic bite the head off of a chicken.  All the craft, strength and blood remain but none of the raw immediacy of the violence is at hand throughout Outrage, just a tired sense of going through the motions.  Yakuza wages war on Yakuza, families fight, and someone may or may not survive.

Roll curtains, cue disappointment.

To Kitano's credit, there's an intriguing subtext of following a tradition which should have been long-abandoned.

That said, the nearly thirty years Kitano has been directing films has still left him with quite the pretty movie.  In addition to the visual motif mentioned above about following empty traditions, Kitano keeps his signature flair for violence intact in a number of gruesome yet wholly intriguing death sequences when the Yakuza gangs start to take each other out.

The problem is that, gorgeously composed as the compositions are, they lack the deadly pulse of his earlier pictures.  The comparison to Sonatine is somewhat inevitable, but also a bit unfortunate as Kitano had slightly higher ambitions with that earlier (and significantly better) film.  But it's still sad that Kitano is merely repeating the cycle of violence in scene after scene instead of commenting on it.  In Sonatine his character, Murakawa, responds to the death spiral in the most coldly logical and darkly comic way possible.  Here Otomo (Kitano) is given an ironic heroes death of sorts, and there is no real meaning to draw from the film.

This isn't to say that Outrage is a complete failure, just a massive disappointment considering what Kitano is capable of.  The other truly great film in his canon, Fireworks, contains a quirky and easily misguided romance that goes in the only direction a nihilistic Yakuza can take it.  It's one of the only wholly original romances I've seen in any film, from any country, and there's not a single memorable pairing in Outrage which can compare.

Another moment of style which means very little.

Which brings me to my main problem with the film, and why building the plot around a series of violent images is not Kitano's true strength as a filmmaker.  He didn't write a single memorable character, not even for himself, or comprehensible story.  One gang gets angry at another over some drug business, then a bar tab gets involved, then the violence starts to escalate until each gang is trading off revenge detail as quickly as it can be doled out.

The editing follows in kind and is a mess.  Kitano does not hold our hands, nor should he expected to, but the names of the people suddenly introduced in three separate acts of revenge crosscut into one another would not have been bad.  It's presentation makes clear what his interviews also stated, he just wanted to get to the violent parts and didn't care much for a plot until afterward.  In the end, I was so tired trying to keep up with all of the gangs and who was plotting revenge on who it became a fruitless gesture to even try because it all meant nothing.

What we have, at the end of the day, will not disappoint a single person looking to whittle away an evening with a stylish Yakuza flick.  But anyone with a sense of history and style will leave very disappointed.  Kitano is still a massive talent as he wrote, directed, edited, and starred in Outrage all by his lonesome.  I just hope he finds his voice again with his next project, or at least enough self-reflection to realize his film became the very thing he was sad to project in his earliest projects.

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Outrage (2011)

Directed, screenplay by and starring Takeshi Kitano.

Posted by Andrew

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