A Badass in the Charles Bronson Vein: ‘Outrage: Way of the Yakuza’

[13 February 2012]

By Brent McKnight

Beat Takeshi (Takeshi Kitano) is a badass in the Charles Bronson vein. As an actor he has perfected that stoic, grim-faced tough guy persona who, though he may not look like much, can snap out of his quiet pose and kill the living hell out of you. Not only that, but he’s an incredibly prolific filmmaker with dozens of writing and directing, as well as acting credits under his belt. In that tradition, he wrote, directed, starred in, and edited his latest film Outrage: Way of the Yakuza, now out on Blu-ray from Magnet, the genre arm of billionaire Mark Cuban’s Magnolia Home Entertainment.

Working within his wheelhouse of the Japanese criminal underworld, Takeshi plays Otomo, a mid-tier underling in a world where mistakes at work costs fingers, or worse. Say what you will about the yakuza, but that’s one hell of a motivational technique. I screw up all the time at my day job, but all the joints on my hands are still intact. While Otomo outranks some of his fellow underworld denizens, he still has to wait with the car while his boss has dinner with the other big boys.

Neither a suped-up action flick or traditional edge-of-your-seat thriller, Outrage weaves together a twisted web of themes of honor, respect, loyalty, betrayal, intrigue, corruption, and the costs of these and more. Basically everything you’ve come to expect and love from a Yakuza movie, with a fair level of viciousness to boot.

What begins as a small-scale turf war between Otomo’s boss Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura) and an ally, escalates into a messy, perverse, vicious, and often times incredibly witty, tale of revenge and retaliation. Outrage moves smoothly from moments of bloody, face-cutting, tooth-drilling violence, to moments of dark humor until the film almost becomes a black comedy. But then, just when you’re laughing more than cringing, an underling is severely beaten or almost decapitated, and you remember, oh yeah, this is a story about brutal Japanese gangsters who are not to be trifled with.

Outrage is a quiet movie on the surface, but the constant threat of violence lurks just below that calm exterior, seething, ready to erupt at the drop of a hat. Otomo and company share the capacity to go from apparently calm and still, to a whirling storm of knives, fists, and bullets, in a blink. That is the central metaphor for Outrage. Things appear placid on the outside, but with everyone scheming, plotting, scratching to get ahead, and cover their own ass in the process, horrific bodily harm is never far off.

Everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie, a bigger cut of the money, and they’re willing to sacrifice whoever stands in their way to get what they want. Bosses like Ikemoto, and even his boss, Mr. Chairman (Sôichirô Kitamura), may talk a good game about loyalty, devotion, and dedication, but you see by their actions that everyone is expendable.

Otomo is an old-school gangster, steadfastly loyal to Ikemoto. Duty means something to him. Ikemoto, however, exploits this allegiance, ordering Otomo to rough up enemies, perform hits, and other unsavory dirty work, only to throw him under the bus when these actions stir up trouble. That’s the hierarchy of this world, the nastiness definitely runs downhill, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Everyone has one eye on the throne at all times.

Kitano is at his best here: a savage tough guy, but with a duality about him. You sympathize with Otomo, he’s stuck between his personal code of loyalty and his own survival. The only one as loyal as Otomo is his own underling, Mizuno (Kippei Shiina), and both face similar fates. The ultimate price of their fidelity is betrayal. As the treachery of Outrage escalates, the plots twist and overlap, the violence and body count swells in kind, and in the end everything goes on exactly as before in a futile, endless cycle that no one, regardless of rank or standing, can escape.

Magnet does a great job with the Blu-ray release of Outrage, and the disc comes fully stocked with bonus features. The majority of these skew towards interviews; 18-minutes of interviews with the key players in the cast are full of anecdotes, but the most interesting parts are when the actors discuss their characters and processes, as well as the way Kitano works. One performer was surprised when he found out there was an actual script—he thought there was only a story and they would fill in the rest as they went.

There’s a 13-minute panel interview, as well as 24-minutes worth of a Q & A session in front of a massive live audience at the Outrage premiere. Cameras follow Takeshi around Cannes as he signs autographs, waves at reporters, and, you guessed it, takes part in more interviews.

A 36-minute collection of behind the scenes footage gives you a fly-on-the-wall look at the set, and a compilation of trailers and international television spots round out the extras. All in all, this is a solid package with a lot of insight, for those looking for it.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/154432-outrage-way-of-the-yakuza/