Japanese gangsters take a hit in ‘Outrage’
Perched intriguingly on the line separating gangster flick and formalist satire, “Outrage’’ is not Takeshi Kitano’s best work. But it’s the eccentric Japanese writer-director-star’s first yakuza film in many a moon - since “Brother’’ in 2000 - and it’s interesting to speculate what drew him to the genre again. An almost minimalist amorality play about feuding crime families, “Outrage’’ is about hierarchies of men stupidly picking each other off one by one. If that’s a comment on Japanese society or Japanese business culture, Kitano leaves it up to us to connect the dots. Unfortunately, he seems to get bored before he’s done, and so do we.
The director himself plays Otomu, a second-level underboss caught in the crossfire. The head of his family, Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura), is catching flak from top dog the Chairman (Soichiro Kitamura) for forming an alliance with rival gangster Murase (Renji Ishibashi, a fine comic villain). To prove his loyalty, Ikemoto arranges a fake disagreement with Murase’s clan but neglects to notify Murase. Events quickly spiral out of control, tit-for-tat beatings and killings ensue, and in the chaos every thug on every level makes his own grab for power.
Filmed with a steady pace and a minimum of theatrical style, “Outrage’’ is mostly a deadpan comedy about the idiocy that men do. For a Western audience, too much energy will probably be expended on figuring out who’s who and on what side among the large cast of men, all of them wearing similarly flashy suits and sunglasses. (The job gets easier as the movie progresses and the characters sport increasingly outré bandages and casts.) That’s the joke - while each gangster may think he’s a nasty individual, they’re all identical in their paranoid conformity - but the joke quickly wears thin.
The film’s violence is infrequent but hellacious when it comes, with a scene involving a dentist’s drill that will probably make you skip your next three checkups. Women are almost invisible in this world of macho constriction, and passion is reserved for either sucking up to the man above you on the ladder or killing him. Mostly both.
Kitano is the film’s stolid center of gravity as a good soldier who gets fed up and starts issuing his own orders, but even he gets lost in the film’s busy, patient shuffle. The title refers to the ease with which the characters give and take offense, and the director obviously relishes the ways in which the slightest deviation from protocol brings a plague on both these houses. But the filmmaking is cool, watchful, and ultimately too distanced. “Outrage’’ isn’t outrageous enough, and it hurts.