Takeshi Kitano's Outrage (Autoreiji) is a Japanese gangster movie of extreme brutality presented in such pure and unadulterated form it attains a kind of zen austerity, and at moments a trace of self-satire. This is a chess game with changing rules, because organized crime has changed in Japan. Chopping off fingers as punishment or to show loyalty is becoming passé, and the gangs are as likely to be involved in the stock markeet as shaking down pachenko parlors. The complex plot is offset by simplicity of action, which consists of short dialogue scenes followed by acts of revenge or cruelty, moves in the game, if you like. Chess, yes, but chess of a violent kind in which the "pieces" aren't cleanly lifted off but left as bloody sprawling corpses on the "board." Kitano is knowledgeable observer of Japan gangster behavior and this grim, unfun look at it reveals the new generation, stripped of the refinements of the old code. Money now triumphs over honor. Samo-samo? Not exactly. And Kitano presents his devastating, depressingly stark account with a purity and technical accomplishment that almost lifts Outrage to another level. This is a return to old form for Kitano, after the self-indulgence of his recent more playful, philosophical films (which did well internationally). But it is so lacking in flourishes, some have wondered why the director thought it might do well at the Cannes festival. (It got a standing ovation there but some bad reviews.) Nonetheless, the man has made something only he could make. The violence only looks conventional. It is put together with a dryness that is unique. Needless to say, this is not for everyone. In fact it's only for the few.
And it's a dry pleasure for the devotee. Outrage when I saw it in a small theater full of large stuffed easy chairs filled with solid older men, some of them Asian, slouched back silently taking it all in. No popcorn. No chatter. Nice way to spend an afternoon, if you enjoy a killing or a mutilation every ten minutes. Otherwise, stay away. But we cannnot condemn Kitano himself. His solemn artistry is observable throughout, as is his stony-eyed, expressionless face. At Cannes, before the ovation, Kitano had expected to count how many left in the middle. No one budged from the big easy chairs when I watched it in Berkeley.
But let's state the violence. Apart from the finger-chopping (and one victim has to do it on himself with a very blunt knife), weapons include not only revolver, machine gun, and knife, but chopsticks in the ear, a very large snake in a bathroom, dental equipment, and memorably, a fiendish combination of a rope and a car. A strong stomach is required to watch all this.
The plot is linear, but knotty. Early on it emerges that the Chairman (Soichiro Kitamura), a sort of Tokyo capo dei capi of the gang overlord Sanno-kai family, has become upset over the Ikemoto clan's connections to the drug-dealing Murase (Renji Ishibashi) and his crew. Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura), gangster father of Otomo (Kitano, AKA Beat Takeshi) to help him out by stirring up trouble.
Rather than begin with violence, Otomo and his boys devise a trap that some of the Murase gangsters fall for. Soon, though Otomo's people carry their beatings, severed fingers and an X-slashed face so far that the Murase gang vow revenge. The plot grows successively more complicated and the action more violent, though it tapers off for a while, and then comes back nastier than ever. Killings end in brief bloody tableaux. One is of a naked woman, her pale body askew, adorned with bright red splashes. An iconic scene has Otomo entering a bath and shooting point blank three yakuza gangsters. Here and there they lie, with bullet holds spoiling their ornate yakuza tattoos.
What emerges is that all that the warring families really care about is no samurai-like code as of yore, but power and money. Betrayals follow in dizzy succession. Otomo, though he has his own gang, ironically becomes a pawn in the game, sent to prison by a crooked cop and not protected there from the same kind of fate they all suffer, including the capo dressed all in white at his palatial seaside dacha. Sometimes the second in command likes to push his succession forward a little.
Outrage may be for the few, but it is an enormous improvement over the boring and relentless conceptual piece about an untalented artist, Achilles and the Tortoise (2008), and the return to his original subject matter seems wise. The fine cast includes Ryo Kase, Tetta Sugimoto, and Kippei Shiina, besides those mentioned. Good solid cinematography by Katsumi Yanagijima, with its cold glamour and long glides, is backed up by nice synthesizer music by Keiichi Suzuki and subtle sound design, and those who took care of the blood and the tattoos knew their craft. But remember: I warned you.
If youre ear is tuned to the Japanese dialogue, you will not hear the word "yakuza" much in the film except for in brief English dialogue (a dubious idea, as before in Kitano's gangster films) where they say it our way, "ya-Ku-za," instead of their way, "YAK'za." Maybe that's because as a Wikipedia article points out, there are other words we gaijin don't know. The Japanese often call them gokudō and the Japanese police call them bōryokudan and the yakuza call themselves ninkyō dantai or "chivalrous organizations." Now there's a euphemism.
Outrage/Autoreiji debuted at Cannes May 17, 2010 and opened in Japan in June 2010. It has been shown at other international festivals including SFIFF in April 2011. It went into limited US release December 2, 2011.
©2011 Chris Knipp
We will be adding new content every day over the next week as we begin rolling out the new site, culminating in the full transition to the new site along with the debut of our Facebook page next weekend.