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Review: Outrage

Kitano Takeshi is back, movie lovers, and you better cover up that little pinky because he’s liable to chop it the f*ck right off. That’s right, he’s dusted down the black Mercedes and the assault rifle for an old school massacre, yakuza style. Like Scorsese, when Kitano Takeshi gets down with organised crime, cinema audiences tend to get excited. Both men may have directed other genres but both know where their bread is really blooded.

As usual Kitano Takeshi directs his other self, Beat Takeshi, this time in the role of junior boss Otomo. We first glimpse Otomo in a trademark silent tracking shot. The camera floats past a pool of black cars infested with yakuza sharks: Otomo is just another dangerous killer in the crowd ignored by the director. We want to force the camera back to see his iconic face but this is an early nod to the ensemble cast that features in the film. “Outrage” is a who’s who of Japanese cinema featuring Kitamura Soichiro, Jun Kunimura and Renji Ishibashi, all impressive.

Soichiro plays Mr Chairman Sekiuchi the head of the Sanno-Kai clan. Mr Chairman is part Bond villain, part Kim Jong-il look-alike. He swans about in custom-made tracksuits manipulating his subordinates into wiping each other out. His latest Machiavellian scheme is for the ambitious Ikemoto to get the lesser Murase family under manners for their drug trafficking. The duplicitous Ikemoto passes the dirty job onto his junior Otomo, distancing himself from the head of the Murase family and his ever increasing humiliation.

Similar to “Sonatine” Otomo and his crew parachute into Murase family territory to begin their heavy handed intimidation. Money is conned, faces slashed, yubitsume demanded. Ever more insidiously Otomo and his men become embroiled in a power struggle not only between Mr Chairman and Ikemoto but their own number twos Kato and Ozawa respectively. Everyone is screwing everyone else over, kept sweet by a superior’s promise of promotion, “When things settle down” is the wicked running gag.

As the deceit, lies and corruption reach fever pitch so does the violence. Apparently Kitano Takeshi wrote the various, inventive deaths of each character before tying them together with a suitable narrative. Chopsticks stabbed in ears, heads snapped off in cars, tongues yanked out of mouths seem superficially violent but they serve to completely lay to rest the ghost of the honourable yakuza personified by actor Ken Takaura who struggled between the values of giri (duty) and ninjo (personal feelings).

In Kitano Takeshi’s hands “Outrage” is an allegorical tale of corporate Japan scrambling to survive in the face of the global economic crisis. The yakuza have evolved into stockbrokers making them indistinguishable from their legitimate business partners (until we glimpse their giveaway irezumi). Even Beat Takeshi’s ultra violent standard, Otomo is now outdated. In the past he would defiantly go out in a blaze of glory but now he’s more circumspect as Otomo told by a detective, “the days are numbered for old-school yakuza. Outlasting everyone is the best revenge these days.”

Once again Kitano Takeshi has skewered his keynote genre right before our eyes and “Outrage” is bold vigorous filmmaking that feels like a new chapter in his directing career. “Outrage 2” is planned for 2012 having been delayed by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters that hit Eastern Japan in March. How those catastrophic events will inform that film will certainly be of interest. Will “Outrage 2” be a meditation on the nature of sequels or a yakuza series to rival “Battles Without Honour and Humanity” is anybody’s guess. What is certain is Kitano Takeshi’s ability to reinvent himself time and time again.