The past 15 – 20 years, people have assumed I’m a big fan of Takeshi Kitano’s. I’m not sure why. Probably because I wrote a lot about John Woo and Hong Kong action in the 1990s. People thought that, well, if I like Chinese gangster movies, I probably like Japanese ones too. But comparing Kitano to Woo is like comparing apples to bananas. Kitano has a completely different style and makes a different type of movies, even if quite a few of them are violent Yakuza dramas. And no — I’ve never been a fan of Kitano. Some of them are okay, decent. Some are pretty funny. Most of them are boring like hell. I have friends who think Takeshi Kitano, who calls himself Beat Takeshi when he acts, is a very cool guy, while I can’t see his charm. The last handful of movies directed by Kitano have been big flops. Therefore, he decided to go back to his roots and make a violent Yakuza tale, so he wrote and directed “Outrage”, which premiered at the 2010 Cannes festival. I guess I should try and tell you a little about the story. This is easier said than done. But here goes: Sanmo-kai is a huge Yakuza syndicate controlling the Kanto region. A fellow named Kato asks his right-hand man Ikemoto to nail the Murase family for their drug trafficking. Ikemoto, in turn, asks old-timer Otomo (Kitano himself) of the Murases to do the deed. The Murase family gets pissed off at the Ikemoto family. Meanwhile, one of the families — I don’t remember which one — starts blackmailing an African man working for the embassy of some small African country. In a struggle for power, the Ikemotos start killing the Murases. The Murases kill the Ikemotos. The Africans are frightened. And I wonder what the hell is going on.
The first half of “Outrage” is just people talking. Grim, dead serious Japanese men wearing dark suits. They sit around tables. They threaten each other. And I don’t know who’s who. Who belongs to which family. Jeez, this is boring, folks! It’s very hard to get involved when you never know who’s who, and who they work for and why they are doing what they do. Then half-way through, the movie turns violent. Oh yeah, does it turn violent. It really goes over the top, this is one of the most violent, brutal and goriest movies I’ve seen in a theater in a very long time. And then towards the end, the action and violence just accelerates. It gets incredibly bloody. I started laughing. Is this supposed to be funny? I’ve absolutely no idea. In the most shocking scene, one poor sod has his teeth ground down! There’s a guy who gets chop-sticks rammed into his ear, there are countless gun downs, fingers are chopped off regularly, and a couple of guys perform a nifty trick involving a rope, a car and a guy they have to kill. “Outrage” never really turns into an action movie, though. Takeshi Kitano’s style and pacing is too arty. The movie is rather slow moving and there’s no fancy camera work here. The scenes are long and often nothing much happens. And when things do happen, I’m not sure what it is.
I was about to nod off several times during the first half of the movie. It gets a lot more entertaining during the ultra-violent second half. But I’m never involved. I don’t care about the characters. I don’t understand their motifs, I’m not really sure what’s going on. It feels like I’m missing something. This is a problem I often have with Japanese movies, it’s like there’s a membrane between me and the goings on the movies. The Japanese culture and the mentality of the Japanese people are so different from myself and my world. Most of the times, Japanese movies leave me indifferent. Yes, the blood-soaked second half of “Outrage” is absolutely amazing, and there’s some intended humor — I think it’s intended — involving the poor African guy who ends up in the clutch of the Yakuza. But as a whole, I found “Outrage” uninteresting and boring — and at 109 minutes way too long. “Outbreak” became a huge success in Japan, though, and Takeshi Kitano has promised a sequel. The movie opens theatrically here in Sweden where I live on April 8, while it’s still touring festivals in the States, waiting for a release date. It plays the San Francisco International Film Festival on April 30.
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