This is exactly why Judge Daryl Loomis hates the dentist.
One wrong move and it's all-out war
Of all modern Japanese directors, nobody is more adept at putting together an action film as Takeshi Kitano (Kikujiro). The one-time comedian turned actor, writer, and director has made just about every kind of film over his career, from love stories to coming of age films to the frenetic actioners that brought him his fame, all with a heart and idiosyncratic style unique to the world of cinema. His latest film marks a return to the Yakuza genre, his first in over a decade. Outrage: Way of the Yakuza is not the best work of his career, but it's an efficient and extremely violent gangster affair that will satisfy the hunger for gunplay.
Facts of the Case
When a guy winds up overdoing it with drinks and girls at a yakuza bar and can't pay his bill, one of the bar's heavies accompanies him to his office, where he promises to pay. Unfortunately, the thug finds out that the cheapskate is aligned with another yakuza family, and his demand for payment offends their code of honor. This small offense begins a spiral of escalation that results in disfigurement and death to underlings and bosses alike. When Ôtomo (Kitano, acting under the name "Beat" Takeshi, as usual), an aged and hardened assassin, is brought in to take care of things, the streets of Tokyo run red with gangster blood.
Outrage feels like the opposite of Sonatine, my favorite Takeshi Kitano piece. In that film, a group of yakuza are sent to a seaside town to keep watch on an escalating gang war, but mostly sit on the beach and talk. Here, there is little in the way of conversation, at least any conversation that's not absolutely pertinent to the street war at hand. For Outrage, this is both the point and the ultimate downfall of the film. Kitano is clearly trying to deglamorize the yakuza mythos by stripping it down to its bare essence, a brutally violent and vengeance-obsessed lifestyle more concerned with the bulging coffers of the family boss than the welfare of the underlings. At the same time, though, the story is stripped so bare that if feels slim, confusing, and undercooked.
Character motivations are completely unclear, outside of revenge orders, and they really have very little character at all. Everybody feels generic, like all the people in the background of every other yakuza film were brought to the front and given lines to read. There's nothing memorable about any of them and they simply fall into two sides, underling and boss. That is the only dynamic that exists and, whether murders, double-crossings, or a simple dinner, the entire movie plays off that one relationship. Still, the performances are generally very good, with Kitano pulling the weight with his usual skill. But even his character has only shades of color without much detail.
What Outrage really has going for it is the brutality. This is the most violent film Kitano has produced in many years. It has a huge body count and enough creative methods of inflicting punishment to satisfy a fan of slasher films. Kitano employs everything from ropes to razors to dental drills to lay the pain on these characters and, by the time the story comes to a head, it has turned into total mayhem. In spite of the thin story, it's still a fun, well-made film that looks great and plays very smoothly. It's not the best display of Kitano's talents, but it's definitely worth a watch.
Whatever one may think about Outrage as a film, the quality of the Blu-ray release from Magnolia is undeniable. The 1080p image is fantastic, as good as could possibly be expected. The transfer is exceptionally sharp, with no defect at any point, colors are very realistic, and the blood looks dark and sticky. Black levels are deep and whites gleam. It's one of the best non-Criterion Blu-ray transfers that I've seen. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is equally good, nice and loud with good separation through the channels. The volume ramps up as the violence escalates, making for just the right amount of punch at just the right times. There's nothing I can complain about at all on the technical level.
I do wish, though, that there was a little more variety on the extras front. There are a good number of them, which is nice, but they're all in the form of interviews with the occasional piece of behind-the-scenes footage. A half-hour featurette, called "Outrage: Inside Out," is the most substantial o the group, which takes us to the film shoot and describes, through interviews, the process and decisions made to complete the film. There is a set of cast interviews talking about the film and the director, where we get a sense of how much of an honor it is for these actors to work with Kitano. A cast panel interview and a premiere Q&A recycle much of the same information, while footage from the Cannes Festival has Kitano signing autographs and being nice to people. A set of trailers for the film round out the disc. I'd hoped for more substantial extras than just talking heads, but what's here is fairly interesting.
Outrage is not Takeshi Kitano's best film, there's no doubt, but seventy percent of Takeshi Kitano is still better than most directors at full effort. The story's a little light and there's little glamorization of the Yakuza lifestyle (unless your dream is losing a fingertip), but it's an expertly constructed film with good performances and enough violence to suit anyone's fancy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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