SIFF 2011: OUTRAGE (2010) Review

Takeshi Kitano's return to the ultra-violent world of Yakuza film has been, perhaps, misnamed by its writer-director. Outrage conjures up a sense of injustice, of a rejection of the almost normalized criminal behavior depicted in the film which sees Japanese crime syndicates flooding the streets with drugs, gambling, and of course, (this being Kitano) ample amounts of blood. "Outrage" brings to mind a sense of defiance and rejection that is absent here.

No, this movie would be more aptly titled "Disgust:" Kitano's film drips with a poisonous hate of the characters on-screen, from the thuggish foot soldiers, to the wily family boss, Chairman Sekuichi (Soichiro Kitamura), to even Kitano's mid-level enforcer Otomo. There's neither nostalgia or sympathy for any kind of imaginary criminal code: loyalties are inevitably overruled by profit, oaths and bonds are only worth the breaths it took to make them (and last about as long).

Tracing what seemed to be a few months' span in the life of a fairly prosperous clan, Outrage shows us what happens when criminals are allowed to do what they are inclined to do: lie, cheat, steal, and kill, and not only are the cops helpless, they're more often than not complicit.

The trouble all starts when the Chairman tasks underling Boss Ikemoto (crime flick regular Jun Kunimura) to break ties with the latter's blood brother, Murase (Renji Ishibashi), whose expanding territory is dirtying things up with its drug business. Of course, Ikemoto has been splitting the drug take with Murase, but to keep up appearances, he still has Otomo (Kitano) stir things up with Murase's gang. One thing leads to another and it's all-out war with Murase's gang, with the Chairman and Ikemoto at the top claiming that it's just underlings getting out of control, while prodding them to force Murase out.

At this point, you would assume that Otomo's character would be the bastion of Yakuza honor, holding some kind of imaginary moral line. We've seen it to an extent in the brilliant Sonatine and the mostly shaggy Brother, both by Kitano. But whereas both of those films portrayed Kitano's characters as--well, if not lovable, then likeable--criminal heroes, Outrage shows the Yakuza mid-level boss for what he is: a pimp, a bully, a blackmailer, and a killer.

It should probably come as no surprise then that the relentless grimness of the picture makes it something less than an easy film experience. Indeed, there's not even really much in the way of a story here, simply a series of episodes where the families steadily and mercilessly chew away at each other until there's little left but bone. It's less artfully realized than many of Kitano's other films in the same genre, and there's no character to really invest oneself in throughout the viewing. They're scum, every one. But then, that's really the purpose of the movie, isn't it: to peel back the layers of myth and show them for what they are.

In that regard, the movie succeeds. Even if it's lesser Kitano, it's still a notable, watchable film for the raw disgust it's willing to put onscreen.

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