Review: Outrage (2010)

Takeshi “Beat” Kitano’s latest film, Outrage, is one of the most beautifully shot Japanese films I’ve ever seen.  It’s also one of the least engaging.  I’ve never been a huge fan of either Japanese or American gangster films, but even if you are a big yakuza film fan, I expect you’d find this one to be below average.  There just isn’t much story here.  The film is a series of setups and gang hits based on the seemingly random machinations of the yakuza boss, whose title is translated into English as the Chairman.

Even though Kitano wrote and directed this piece, his role is marginal at the beginning of the film; so much so that I assumed he’d written himself a role that was little more than a glorified cameo.  That changes as the film goes on, however, when Kitano’s character, Otomo, is closer to the forefront of events.  This is an ensemble picture and no one character is ever much of a focal point.  That’s part of the problem.  There really aren’t any characters to get behind.  Just when you think you’ve found the protagonist, they get killed, and usually in a spectacularly gruesome way.  There just isn’t anyone worth hanging your hat on.  Every character is crooked in one way or another and they all deserve the violent deaths that are doled out to them.

Yes, there’s a good bit of violence here, but it hardly ever stirs up a reaction.  It isn’t exciting because you don’t know who to root for and it isn’t disturbing because it never reaches the levels seen in Miike films.  One of Kitano’s trademarks is comedy and there’s plenty to laugh at here, but oftentimes I wondered if I should be laughing.  Violent moments are often punctuated with humor in a way that made me feel sort of guilty for laughing.  Wile E. Coyote’s injuries are funny until he’s placed squarely in the real world where this picture takes place.

All the performances are top notch, as would be expected from a cast of this caliber.  This is like a who’s who of Japanese gangster films, but I can’t help but feel that all of that talent was wasted on this subpar story.  Even Kitano gets precious little to do in his own movie!

But then there’s the beautiful presentation.  Katsumi Yanagajima’s cinematography simply sparkles.  It presents a world that is right out of a David Hockney painting, filled with saturated colors, shiny surfaces, and slick compositions.  Kitano’s editing doesn’t do a lot to help the story along but it sure does work hard to show off Yanagajima’s work.

Music is sparse but what is there is excellent.  I liked it so much that I considered looking for a soundtrack until I realized that if there were one, it would only be ten or twelve minutes long.  Keiichi Suzuki works wonders with the little bit of time he’s given, delivering a techno score with references to traditional Japanese music that serves to reinforce the old school vs. new school theme of the film.

Outrage 2 is currently in production, so obviously somebody liked this film more than I did.  If you’re a fan of Kitano’s or a yakuza film lover, you should check it out.  If not, I wouldn’t recommend it.

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