In an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japanese director Takeshi Kitano discussed how, for his 2010 film Outrage, his only ambition was to be entertaining. Kitano, after a stint doing more artistic but less commercially successful pieces (ex. Hana-bi, which won him the Venice Golden Lion), decided to return to his roots in yakuza films. So how well did Kitano satisfy his objective?
Well, there’s certainly a lot of action in Outrage. The number of gun-based homicides committed in the film (not to mention other methods of death) probably exceeds the number of real-life murders reported in a year across Japan. Violence and gore run rampant, with highly unsettling torture scenes and quite a few little fingers getting cut off in true yakuza fashion. The breadth of weaponry and ambitiousness of corruption (blackmailing an African ambassador, dirty cops) present make Outrage seem like it takes place in some narcoterroristic failed state, not Japan.
All that is fair and fun (if violence is your thing), but I sense a discordance in the movie. Kitano achieved directorial acclaim through his use of idiosyncratic artistic styles (ex. long takes, minimal camera movement), and some of that shows in Outrage — limpid shots of black sedans weaving their way down country lanes, camera pans across a single take of a bathhouse. However, the artistry feels like an intrusive vestige. It’s separated from the action, not weaved in with it. Outrage has nothing like the renowned hallway fight scene in the Korean noir film Oldboy. Instead, it’s a bastard child of something like Still Walking (a peaceful family drama) and your regular brainless action flick. It’s a piece whose entertainment value is awkwardly cluster-bombed by fragments of a more contemplative tradition.
Whats even more disappointing about Outrage is its utter lack of character development. The movie documents the Machiavellian power struggles between different yakuza figures, yet tells us very little about each of them. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to root for or against anyone, much less become emotionally invested in the story. This further decreases the film’s entertainment value — just imagine how boring any political drama (ex. House of Cards) would be if you knew nothing about the politicians’ thoughts, emotions, or motivations!
Sorry, Takeshi Kitano, but if you aimed to make Outrage entertaining, then you didn’t completely succeed. Entertainment doesn’t need to come at the expense, or exist independently of, thoughtfulness and artistry. To have a director with talent say that his only ambition is to be “entertaining” feels like a waste. Outrage could have been something better, something more like many Korean gangster films of late. Where’s the artistic action of Oldboy? Where’s the beautiful shadowboxing end scene from A Bittersweet Life? Well, it’s not in Outrage, and that’s a shame.
Outrage (Japanese: アウトレイジ)-– Japan. Dialog in Japanese. Directed by Takeshi Kitano. First released June 2010. Running time 1hr 49min. Starring Takeshi Kitano, Ryo Kase, and Kippei Shiina.