By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Actor-director Takeshi Kitano enjoyed a strong run on the international circuit in the 1990s, when films such as “Fireworks” and “Sonatine” showed off his heady ability to mix tenderness and violence.
They also showed off his unique mug (as an actor he’s billed as “Beat” Takeshi), a scarred and determined face that rarely gives away its intentions.
For the last few years, Kitano has made films that barely made it out of a limited festival circuit, so his new one, “Outrage,” might be seen as a safe return to tried-and-true subject matter. It’s a yakuza picture, a relentless look at the eye-for-an-eye habits of Japanese gangsters.
In fact, the movie is basically a series of revenge scenes taken one after the next. Kitano plays a major role in a large ensemble; he’s Okono, the enforcer for a particular yakuza “family.”
With the opening sequence, the chairman of one of the major clans suggests that one minor family should be put in its place, just a bit. This leads to a very amusing exchange of humiliations and demands for retribution (including, inevitably, the amputation of a finger, a common payback in this world).
But, as the chairman clearly intended, this first pebble tossed down the hill becomes an avalanche of retribution. And while the strategies might be intended as part of a large, complex chess match, the actual effect is to basically kill all the pieces on the board.
As a director, Kitano puts his sleek, hard style to good use, and the momentum certainly never flags. Except for three of four main characters, we never pause long enough to learn the power relationships between these gangsters, and in most cases we don’t even catch the names.
Kitano doesn’t skimp on the outlandish violence, as scenes involving a sadly convenient pair of chopsticks and a visit to a dentist’s office make abundantly clear. This is not for the faint of heart, or stomach.
As the parade of killings went on in increasingly stupefying fashion, I eventually began wondering why Kitano found this worth making a movie about. One key might be this: Kitano began his career as a stand-up comedian, and has said he relishes self-parody.
Although it never cracks a smile, “Outrage” plays as a parody of the yakuza film. The codes of honor are played out to such an absurd degree in this movie that you can’t help but laugh at these ludicrously violent men, whose bogus ideas of honor and nobility mean everybody ends up dead.
I suspect Kitano is pulling our leg, and suggesting that the “eye for an eye” policy leads to an awful lot of blindness.
“Outrage” (2½ stars)
Actor-director Takeshi Kitano returns with an exceptionally violent gangster picture, in which an inter-family war amongst the yakuza results in an endless round of revenge killings. In fact, the movie’s relentless approach makes you suspect Kitano is actually parodying these gangsters and their absurdly deadly codes of honor. In Japanese, with English subtitles.
Rated: R for violence, nudity.