Updated: May 1, 2020
An ultra-violent study of yakuza politics!
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Beat Takeshi, Kippei Shiina, Ryo Kase, Tomokazu Miura, Jun Kunimura, Tetta Sugimoto
Related films: Sonatine, Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Rusty Knife
Outrage paints a grim picture from behind the curtains of the yakuza organizations. If it has any root in reality it is a frightening image indeed. Über-violent action sequences and sleek power plays makes it feel like a political thriller infused with Quentin Tarantino-antics.
Kitano is known both for his comedy and hard boiled yakuza films. All through the 90’s he delivered different takes on the yakuza genre, from ruthless brutality to arthouse experimentation. Although Outrage is violent at times it offers yet another approach to the yakuza genre. This time it is all about the politics within the world of the Japanese mafia.
The heyday of Japanese crime syndicates was arguably put to an end to in 1992, when new laws were implemented to end organized crime in Japan once and for all. The yakuza still endure, but black-clad organized criminals on killing sprees are visions from a bygone era.
Instead Japan was faced with a new foe, the «economic yakuza». The new laws forced the syndicates to get smarter. This led to an apparently more open conduct of business, and shrewder integration in local economies. On the surface the yakuza seemed decriminalized, but a new level of pressure and scare tactics was introduced to the world of finance.
«Decriminalized» is a foreign word in Outrage however. The audience are thrown into a world of brutality, drug business and plays of criminal strategy. The tone is set in the first scenes when all of Tokyo’s yakuza bosses gather for a meeting. The behavior of the syndicate members and the servants brings to mind social classes as depicted in countless samurai movies.
The story is spun into motion when the highest ranking yakuza leader orders a stop to the collaboration between two smaller yakuza families. This in turn leads to the killing of a yakuza member, who like a blood dripping domino piece sets in motion an endless stream of violence, bloodshed and power struggles.
Between the lines
Whether the yakuza really became white collar criminals, or kept their ruthless conduct behind closed doors, is left for our curious minds to imagine. Or we can let Kitano do it for us. In large part, Outrage pays homage to the hard boiled yakuza mythology. The crime syndicates of the new millennium are portrayed as harder, tougher and colder than ever. The atmosphere is convincingly realistic and frightfully chilling.
Some have criticized Outrage for being dehumanized, with characters that are not relatable. Such critique seems to have missed the point of the film. Outrage is not about character development, or about the emotional aspect of being a yakuza. It is all about the politics of yakuza families and how it might conceivably be conducted. As such, Outrage succeeds in depicting the inner workings of yakuza hierarchies.
Fans of Kitano’s art house films might still get a kick out of this action fest, being that the film style is pristine. The camera moves slowly, static angles are abundant, and the soundtrack is minimalistic. In many ways Kitano maintains the traditional aesthetics of classic Japanese cinema, which is somewhat interesting in combination with extreme violence and suspense.
Remembering Kitano’s early yakuza films, yours truly was caught off-guard by the proficient filmmaking in Outrage. Cheap thrills an ultra-violence was to be expected, and was indeed delivered. The captivating narrative coupled with an in-depth view of the intricacies of yakuza politics was a pleasant surprise.
Outrage was pushed onto the international market due to its nail-biting suspense and shocking brutality. Shock factor aside, it is a film with many layers. Yes, it is brutal, but it is also very well done, funny and strangely engaging all at once.
Don’t believe the bad-mouthing that has been going around about this film. Outrage should appeal to fans of mafia films in general, as well as fans of Japanese action, and frankly anyone with interest in Japanese film. It is among the best films Kitano ever made, and it easily ranks up there with Hana-bi (1997), Dolls (2002) and Zatoichi (2003).
Outrage is grainy in some places and overexposed in others. Even so, the Blu-ray version is the way to go. Given the topic matter, a little grit goes hand in hand with the content. In the yakuza genre you will hardly find a sharper image anywhere (pun intended).