Outrage (Magnet Releasing, R)

 

film outrage_75We squirm because it is horrible, and then laugh because we can’t believe what we are seeing.

 

 

 

Outrage opens with a long tracking shot down a row of Yakuza in suits. It is a shot that introduces us to many of the characters in this large ensemble cast—most of whom are dead by the end of the film. If that sounds grim and depressing, it is not. The film is fairly intricate in its plotting, and like most simple Americans, I often struggled to keep track of certain names and who was being discussed in certain scenes. But the overall premise is simple enough. All of these characters, each from different crime families living in peaceful cooperation with each other, end up going to war because of a series of betrayals and double crosses. Again, this sounds almost like material from a Shakespearian tragedy, but the film has a real sense of humor about itself.

These events play out like a farce, with the backstabbing getting more and more outlandish. The comedy is certainly dark, but it is also certainly comedy. Low-level thugs are easily manipulated by their superiors, and their superiors are easily manipulated by those above them. The bloodshed reaches a point of pure lunacy, and while some will be horrified by what happens, I think it is clearly meant to be comedic. The film has many spectacular moments of violence: One in particular involving a dentist’s office got a fantastic reaction from the crowd during the film’s SLIFF screening. We squirm because it is horrible, and then laugh because we can’t believe what we are seeing.

What I love about Yakuza films is that they are like American gangster films, but the context of the Japanese culture adds so much rich texture to the proceedings. There is a real sense of honor among thieves, and the villains of the story are able to get away with what they do because they refuse to honor this code. Gangsters frequently try to make amends by cutting off their own pinkies, which, surprisingly, doesn’t satisfy many people. In fact, this seems to happen so often, I am surprised how many of the characters still have entire hands.

The film is directed by and stars Takeshi Kitano, who reinvented and revitalized the Yakuza genre in the ’90s with films like Sonatine and Hana-bi. As an actor, Kitano has one of the greatest faces in cinema history. He looks ragged and beaten and intense. He often stares blankly into space, barely moving at all, yet he exudes charisma. You can’t take your eyes off him, and you believe that he could easily dispatch the younger men around him. His role isn’t substantially larger than anyone else’s but he effortlessly dominates the proceedings. As a director his work here is good, but not exceptional. This film doesn’t reinvent the genre, but is instead content to simply be a fine example of it. If you like Yakuza films, this is a good one to see, especially on the big screen, which is a rare treat for this type of film. | Sean Lass

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