As far as I can remember, the first Takeshi Kitano film that I saw him in was a Yakuza one called Brother, where his character got to get to the United States while on the run from Japan, and showed his relative a thing or two about running a racket and setting up shop in a foreign land. Between then and now there were the offbeat support roles in mainstream films to arthouse fare and now I've gone full circle with Kitano's latest Jpaanese film Outrage which made it to Cannes, telling a story none other than one involving Japanese gangsters.
But this is not your ordinary, romanticized tale of gangsters where there's an identifiable lead who'd probably be that anti-hero, or villain with the heart of gold. Outrage is an intense look at the structure of the Japanese yakuza, where there is proper hierarchy in terms of funding, promotions, and the likes, and how things are run in that secret society. It's almost like a corporation with a CEO in place, with various houses reporting back to him, each having a report card to score, and the weak ones taken out from the organization, in brutal fashion of course.
Written, directed and edited by Takeshi Kitano, this is one film that tells you straight in the face that these are all bad men, with zero humanity nor any room for redemption, as they lead their corrupt lives very much looking over their shoulders, choosing to go onto the path of obvious hypocrisy, where loyalties are flimsy and count for nothing and are only as good as what you can bring and contribute to the coffers. Which is an interesting notion as you see orders no matter how absurd they sound being followed to a T, and some of the best scenes involve contemplation of what's morally ethical (ok, even for a bit) when told to betray another, and this not only involves the hoodlums, but those who are on the side to enforce the law being no better themselves.
And the catalyst for everything that unfolds in the film, gets sparked off by something as menial as an exploitation of a seemingly harmless man in a karaoke bar turned wrong, which in essence is something hatched by the those in the lower rung of the structure because the head honcho disapproves of certain relationships being linked with the larger family alliance. Yes, those at the bottom of the food chain, gets to do all the dirty work. From then the narrative moves at a frantic pace as things get to spiral out of control and taking on a life of its own, with everything from the gangsters' arsenal of weapons like bribery, assassinations and blackmail being deployed in a systematic execution of foes from each side.
The violence on display doesn't flinch, which sort of provides you that cautionary hint that crime doesn't pay, and that doesn't just mean the mutilation of the pinky is enough in ritual apologies. Kitano's story serves up execution after execution that will make the sternest of hearts cower at the way they are carried out without remorse, even though you clearly know they are evil guys who deserve as good as the punishment and death they dish out themselves. You'd get plenty of bloody good gore thrown in for good measure without the camera cutting away, which splatters the film with plenty of crimson red. In some ways it plays out like poetic justice, especially when accompanied by the really magnificent soundtrack by Keiichi Suzuki.
Outrage is outrageously recommended for those who'd like to sit on the sidelines and observe how people destroy other people in society through the lack of ethics, especially when this film mirrors human nature in general with the plotting of usurping other's position of power any moment, of self-advancement through the stepping on other's backs. Only that here, when it involves turf, money and promotion to get to the very top amongst a group of armed men with little morals, it comes with many body bags as well. Definitely one of the best Yakuza films in recent years for its stunningly brutal and refreshing portrayal of violent men in violent form.