Takeshi Kitano has always been a rule-breaker so it's no surprise that Outrage, his latest gangster film, should foil expectations.
A good part of that has to do with Kitano himself. Cast as a yakuza underboss in a violent, almost Shakespearean tale of double-dealing underworld power struggles, Kitano lets the viewer make the assumption that his character is the engine for the story.
This is, after all, a Kitano film. He's playing the gangster who ostensibly is the protagonist. So one assumes that, in the end, his is the character that will drive the action and be the focus of the climax.
Not that I'm going to give away the ending. But let's just say that Kitano's role is not what you expect it to be.
He plays Otomo, third in command to an underworld family leader named Ikemura (Jun Kunimura). But even Ikemura takes orders - in this case, from Mr. Chairman (Kitamura Soichiro), the boss of bosses in the shadowy world of Tokyo gangsters. He's first seen ending what is obviously some sort of executive board meeting of family bosses, asking Ikemoto to stick around.
Mr. Chairman, it seems, is unhappy that Ikemura has become friendly with another crime family head, Murase (Renji Ishibashi), whose gang deals drugs. Seemingly worried about where Ikemura's loyalties lie, Mr. Chairman forces him to instigate an escalating feud with the Murase family. Not that Ikemura does any of this himself; he delegates to Otomo and his minions, in a series of increasingly violent encounters with Murase's underlings and, finally, Murase himself (in a scene of savage dentistry that brings "Marathon Man" to mind, then goes farther).
Ultimately, Kitano's point is that, unlike the yakuza of popular mythology (which supposedly are modeled on the bushido honor codes of the samurai), real-life gangsters are just that: thugs - and greedy, violent thugs at that. Even the most famous of yakuza gestures - the severing of one's own little finger as penance for lost face - is mocked here, treated as a too-little, too-late action.
Kitano creates a neon- and fluorescent-lit environment, in which homage is paid to tradition, but only as far as it serves the payer's purpose. Meanwhile, the action is brutal and bloody, sudden and crazily violent at times.
Kitano's world is one of criminal Darwinism. Forget the Clint Eastwood model of revenge and retribution that the film's title, Outrage, suggests. As Kitano's final act kicks into gear, this is strictly an illustration of two old dictums: that there is no honor among thieves, and that excrement flows downhill. Look out below.
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