ActionFest '11: Outrage Review

[With it screening at ActionFest, it's time to revisit Todd's Cannes Review of Takeshi Kitano's return to Yakuza.]

Takeshi Kitano is back. After a trio of increasingly self-reflective films Kitano is back in the genre where he built his name and audience in the first place. He is back to the world of the yakuza, a world of manly men doing manly things which generally involve a great deal of pain for other, less manly men. When it comes to the gangster film few have ever done it better than Kitano and with Outrage he is absolutely back in peak form, his latest film playing as though the Kitano who made Fireworks and Sonatine has spent the past several years steeping himself in the world of original yakuza-auteur Kinji Fukasaku.

The complex plot stars the writer-director as Otomo, a mid level mob boss. Otomo's direct loyalties lie with Ikemoto, his gangster-father, an aging gang leader who has formed a formal pact with Murase. This pact has raised the ire of the overall yakuza Chairman, the highest ranking gangster of them all to whom Ikemoto must answer. The Chairman claims his displeasure stems from the shame of associating with Murase's drug business but it is equally likely that he simply doesn't like these two powerful men creating an alliance that could threaten his own power. Whatever the reason, the Chairman instructs Ikemoto to distance himself from Murase, a task Ikemoto then hands to Otomo to accomplish by any means necessary.

What follows is an ever growing spiral of violence and questionable motive. Everybody has an angle in this game. Nobody's motives are clean. And as the forces move into play we see the naked lust for power and quest for basic survival in its most basic terms. For while the yakuza world may be a complex and highly ordered one the driving forces behind it could not be more simple: Everything comes down to greed and fear.

Despite the plot complexity, Kitano directs one of his most direct and most violent pictures here. His work behind the camera is crisp and precise, his work in front of it demonstrating again that Kitano is generally at his best as a blank cipher, one that you can read almost anything in to and one capable of sudden bursts in any direction without warning. Kitano surrounds himself with talent both young and old, the cast filled out with young stars (Ryo Kase) and reliable older faces (Jun Kinimura, Renji Ishibashi) alike. All of the performances are strong, all of the decisions sure, with the only wobbles coming with the occasional foray into English.

Though not Kitano's strongest film - I personally give that title to Sonatine - it is clearly his best since Zatoichi and one which stands comfortably beside both Sonatine and Fireworks to create a trio of truly iconic international crime films.
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