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November 10, 2011

Starz Denver Film Festival 2011 - Outrage


Takeshi Kitano - 2010
Magnolia/Magnet 35mm film

The first thing that struck me about Outrage was the formalism. The film begins with a lateral tracking shot of a group of men, all in identical black suits, standing by black sedans, facing a mansion. That they are yakuza is pretty much a given. Also a given is that they are less important than the men who are gathered inside the house. An overhead shot of one of the black sedans momentarily appears to be a stylized coffin. What seems to be of greater interest to Takeshi Kitano is not the story as much as how to tell the story.

The emphasis on formalism is extended to the narrative elements. Essentially, it is about the complications that arise from conflicting loyalties based on personal oaths of "brotherhood" as well as the formalities of being part of a yakuza family. Watching the film is like watching a chess game, albeit one more violent, where certain movements are allowed based on the specified role. The alleged code of honor of the yakuza, questioned in several films by Kinji Fukasaku almost forty years ago, is thoroughly beaten down by Kitano. As one character tells the disgraced character played by Takeshi, cutting off the tip of the pinkie finger is worthless. A minor incident escalates to the point where entire gangs decimate each other. Unlike the classic yakuza films, there is no one here to root for - it's mostly violence and bluster, almost a comedy of bad manners as each thug tries to play off one against the other, and almost no one gets away with murder.

Even though the film is written, directed and edited by Kitano, the top billed actor is more part of an ensemble rather than the central protagonist. The opening tracking shot goes by Kitano without pause, as if the filmmaker is telling the audience that while Beat Takeshi is in the cast, he is no more the star than anyone else. The humility in not making himself the focal point of his own film may also reflect on Kitano's decision to make another yakuza film, primarily for the sake of commercial viability following a series of more personal films. Keep in mind that Kitano's last film to get any significant U.S. play was his own version of Zatoichi back in 2003.

Even though Kitano has returned to genre filmmaking, there are several stylistic flourishes throughout the film. A flash of gunfire in a tunnel is a reminder of one of his earlier film where all one could see was gunfire in the dark. Several scenes are linked together by fadeouts to black. There is brief silence before a trio of gunmen start shooting. Likewise, there are several moments of grim comedy, as when some thugs insist that a cook serve a bowl of ramen that contain a couple of lopped off fingers, or the give and take between the yakuza and the corrupt cop who selectively enforces the law. In Outrage, there are neither honorable lifes or deaths, merely survival by cunning or sheer luck.

Outrage will get selected theatrical release on December 2.

(Viewed as a DVD screener)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 10, 2011 08:36 AM