Sing it with Judge Michael Nazarewycz now: Mamasay mamasah The Yakuza / Mamasay mamasah The Yakuza!
He's part of a dying breed and they don't go out quietly.
It isn't uncommon to discover a sequel when you don't realize it's a sequel. As new film fans join our ranks (or as old film fans are taught new tricks), films can be found that have the surprise of offering a previous installment to find. Such was the case when Beyond Outrage became available to review. I was drawn to its Asian roots, but as I did research on the film, I found that it is a sequel to 2010's Outrage: Way of the Yakuza. If given the chance, I prefer to watch previous entries in advance of the latest offering, and this was no exception.
Facts of the Case
NOTE: There are no spoilers here per se, but I do refer to events that occurred in the first film, for those of you that haven't seen it and want to visit it first, as I did.
Beyond Outrage takes place five years after the end of Outrage, and the police have a problem. The Sanno crime family, led by Kato (Tomokazu Miura, Tenten), has grown too large and become too powerful for the authorities' liking. Since assassinating his boss in the first film so that he could take over, Kato has run the syndicate less like a family and more like a corporation. He rewards with advancement those who have performed well, not just those who have been around the longest. Despite the success this has brought, the approach rankles the older members. The Sannos are also in bed with the powerful Hanabishi clan.
Detective Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata, Audition), still as corrupt and conniving as he was in the first film, needs the Sannos brought down a few pegs (without their knowledge that he is orchestrating it, of course). He needs this so he will look good to his superiors and so he will retain his value to the Sannos as their man inside the force. In addition to playing both sides (Sanno and Hanabashi) against the middle, Kataoka recruits Otomo (Takeshi Kitano, Outrage), who was thought to be dead at the end of the first film (hardly a spoiler considering he's on the cover of this film's case).
Otomo has lost his taste for the yakuza life and wants no parts of it, but word that he is still alive reaches Kato and a bounty is put on Otomo's head. With his go-to guy now on board, Kataoka brokers a truce between Otomo and the man whose face he disfigured, Kimura (Hideo Nakano, Kumiso), and convinces the two men to work together to bring the Sanno syndicate down.
You don't need to have seen Outrage to watch Beyond Outrage. This is the good news. The bad news is that the reason why is that Beyond Outrage is so convoluted you will feel like you are adrift in a sea of confusion, and to have seen the original is akin to having only one oar.
The worse news is that in addition to being confusing, it is boring to the point of being a struggle to get through. Kitano, who is not only star, editor, and screenwriter, also directs the film. His style is one of minimal cameral movement coupled with minimum actor movement, achieving something of a literal talking picture. A great example (symptom?) is a scene where several men are listening to a recording. As the recorded voice drones on, the camera cuts from listener to listener, each sitting stone-faced as the dialogue rambles on. The voice is delivering shocking information, but it might as well be a grocery list, its presentation is so dull. It is a book on tape with slides.
This dearth of directorial creative flair is weighed down by a story structure that requires the front-loading of endless dry dialogue (and no, the yelling that the actors do when they are riled does not make it less dry; it only makes it more loud). When the occasional bit of action does occur up front, and when the heavier stuff goes down on the back-end, Kitano's flaws are greatly exposed.
Much of the action (read: violence) that takes place is done either at a distance or off screen. Many times people are shot in cars, and the perspective of the camera is such that you see the shooter point and fire and walk away…and that's it. Towards the end, it becomes common to hear gunshots occur off screen and the camera find its way to where the action occurred and where the aftermath is, but that's it. It is all so terribly disappointing. Add to that a baffling scene where a prostitute awaits Otomo in his room, but he declines her services. She lowers her robe and shows him a stunning tattoo that covers her entire back, but nothing else ever comes of the scene or the woman. The image-for-image's-sake exploitation of the woman's physical attributes was reminiscent of Alice Eve's maligned (and rightfully so) underwear scene in Star Trek Into Darkness; it was there for titillation purposes only.
In an interesting and infuriating contrast, Kitano often shoots slow and unnecessary establishing shots, yet relegates his action scenes to sudden and quick bursts. A vice versa approach would have done wonders for this film. Even the score is wildly sparse and terminally uninspired.
I found the Blu-ray's 1080p transfer to be surprisingly underwhelming, with many soft edges in a variety of environments and lighting configurations. This is perhaps more an indictment of Katsumi Yanagijima's (Battle Royale) cinematography which, when it isn't outright murky, is often ever-so-slightly tinted in either green or blue hues. There is one scene near the end that takes place in a pachinko parlor that really pops, but by that time it is far too little, far too late.
As noted, the majority of this film consists of endless dialogue. It is all presented with perfect clarity, which is great if you understand Japanese. Many of those exchanges occur in settings that are perpetually library-quiet, all of which leaves the DTS 5.1 Japanese audio about as unchallenged as you can get. In fairness, when those brief spurts of action do occur, the sound is excellent. However, no matter how good the audio transfer, Keiichi Suzuki's (Tokyo Godfathers) lifeless score cannot be raised from the dead.
The lone extra on the disc is an hour-long feature called "Making Of: Outrage 'Further' Beyond." Despite its dull subject matter, the piece offers impressively extensive behind-the-scenes footage, at times feeling like an alternative angle on live scenes. The subtitled narration over the piece discusses all aspects of the films production, from traditional commentary on script and characters to detailed notes on direction and scene blocking. It promises to offer spoilers, so watch it after the feature. Beyond the disc is an offering for BD Live content.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Kitano has moments when you think he might be onto something. There is a tense scene where a power drill is used to shocking (albeit mostly bloodless) effect, and another that will have you looking at batting cages differently for the rest of your life. (Really, the latter is inspired.) Still, these brief flashes of wow-moments only serve to prove that even a broken clock is right twice a day.
If you sniff around the internet, you'll see bits about the potential for a trilogy-completing third Outrage film. The ending of Beyond Outrage—which admittedly offers a wonderfully shocking final scene—certainly sets up well for that. If a third installment is ever made, though, I doubt I'll watch it. Sure, the completist in me will have a base curiosity of the ultimate paths of the surviving characters. But I have suffered enough of Kitano's plodding direction in this middle film to have learned my lesson. My completist approach will have to defer to my survival instincts.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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