By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Takeshi Kitano’s film “Outrage” began with the writer/director/actor, also known as Beat Takeshi, waiting outside a bigwig yakuza meeting. His character, Otomo, was a low-level flunky, obliged to put his own feelings and aspirations aside as he waited for orders.
The new film “Beyond Outrage” follows the first film in many crucial aspects. Like the first film, it’s written and directed by the star Beat Takeshi himself. Like the first film, it features elegant, smooth, and sliding camera work, courtesy of cinematographer Katsumi Yanagishima, whose other films include “Zatoichi” and “Battle Royale.”
And like the first film, the action revolves, ultimately, around Otomo, who gets kicked around, gets taken for granted, and is serving a stretch in prison.
Kitano takes a risk in “Beyond Outrage” by not reintroducing Otomo until roughly the 25-minute mark. This proves a misstep, since this new film is even more clogged with backroom yakuza intrigue than the first one. Without Otomo as a galvanizing force, such intrigue proves even more tedious than before.
I am no yakuza expert, but certain aspects of Kitano’s script ring true emotionally. Japanese organized crime struggles to adapt to the 21st century, with some of the biggest fish in the yakuza pond gifted at business and making money instead of violence and intimidation.
And as true power transfers to those who understand modern moneymaking techniques, some are bypassed by the younger men who understand the fast-moving high-tech scene. This tends to breed resentment, as older men with more seniority get passed over for promotions and begin to grumble amongst themselves.
In this precarious world, made even more precarious by some scheming corrupt cops, Otomo returns. Kitano does not wear the thick black sunglasses he often adopts. Otomo, at first, seems a bit shaken and weak. He walks with a stoop-shouldered shuffle, and he seems deferential.
Eventually, Otomo’s plans become clear. Like the first film, “Beyond Outrage” takes a while to pick up the pace, but when it clicks into action, it clicks definitively. Watching the action build is a little like waiting for water to boil. First, there’s the ticking of the cooking pot against the burner. Then the cloudiness in the water. Then the wafts of steam. And when the boiling bubbles pop, they burst blood red.
And that’s because, like the first film, this one loses itself in yakuza minutiae, then tries to compensate with gore. Bullets fly, and bodies writhe and spasm before all life finally departs them. A drill comes into play, and so does a mechanical baseball pitcher.
Both films end up seriously unbalanced. The only definitive triumph Kitano manages is the study of his own character Otomo.
The fallen yakuza progresses from humility to triumph. The actor’s facial tics (due largely to a motor scooter wreck in 1994) aren’t played up, as in some of Kitano’s yakuza tales, but simply allowed to happen. Then Otomo, his face partly in shadow, smiles for what seems like the first time. His open mouth fills with darkness. The movie tilts definitively towards its bloodbath.
As before, Kitano seems to lose himself in extremes. He’s certainly a talented filmmaker with a wide command of various styles and attitudes, but the saga of Otomo marks two swings and two misses. (end)
“Beyond Outrage” plays Jan. 17 through Jan. 23 at the Grand Illusion Cinema, located at 1403 N.E. 50th Street in Seattle’s University District. For prices and show times, call 206-523-3935 or visit www.grandillusioncinema.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.