It was a little alarming to hear the AFI Fest‘s associate director of programming describe Takeshi Kitano’s latest, Outrage (Autoreiji), as a return to form, since it comes off the back of his masterpiece, Achilles and the Tortoise. What he means is that it’s a return to the straight Yakuza genre with which Kitano started his career, and into which he has injected some interesting elements at various subsequent points. Not so much here, which from anyone else would be fine,but from him is a disappointment. Nonetheless, it is a perfectly efficient gangster film, told at the usual slow-steady pace, laced with black humour, and boasting some particularly unpleasant moments of violence.
It sets up before the credits as a basic mob family in-fight, and covers all strata, from track-suited chairman, via local family bosses, the soldiers, the street punks and the bent cop. Characters are neatly-drawn, due more to distinctive casting than scripting, and fight amongst themselves for control of turf and positions of power. Kitano is Ôtomo, a relatively low-level boss, his standard, sardonic, twitchy-eyed heavy, old-school in a changing world, who’s office is a drab mess and whose gang always get the dirty work. So he goes about offing various people at others’ behest, before getting the double-cross himself.
There’s an inexorable logic to the film, as the various moves must be countered by the appropriate reaction (one in the hospital, one in the morgue etc) and a hint that it’s all been masterminded by one of the high level mobsters, but in fact there’s no sense of a complex web beneath narrative, simply a charge forwards to play the game through to its inevitable conclusion. The points of interest, therefore, are the absurdist humour – Kitano loves to set his yakuza bickering – and the blood-letting, which is on more than one occasion turn-away-from-the-screen effective. So much so, in fact, that one sits in nervous tension at the most innocuous of later sequences, in anticipation of another sudden burst of violence.
I don’t really care for Kitano’s streak of sadism, but it is a requirement of the genre, and the other pleasure of the film is simply that he is a master of this form. Kitano – in particular – could have made it more interesting, and there’s a slightly disturbing racist subplot involving the eye-rolling ambassador for “Gbana”, albeit that it’s attributed to the mean yakuza, still played for casual laughs. But the film is admirable in its refusal to aim for the epic, or glorification of the gangster, and takes us to all the right places including steam-bath shooting, family massacre montage, and the trademark hail of machine gun fire in the office; perhaps it could have benefited from going further in the Asphalt Jungle direction and anthologised the genre’s set-ups, but as it is, it remains a solid example of the type, disappointing only in that it’s a coast for him.