While erstwhile king of yakuza epics Takeshi Kitano doesn’t try to do much new in “Outrage,” the Japanese multihyphenate’s first such nihilistic bloodbath in the decade since “Brother,” the results are so visually stunning, why quibble? Focusing on the absurdly ultraviolent tit-for-tat tussles among a trio of Tokyo crime families, the film is a beautifully staged marvel that confidently reasserts Kitano’s considerable cinematic gifts. Unlike his ’90s masterpieces “Sonatine” and “Fireworks,” “Outrage” boasts a narrative that’s intricate only in linear fashion, to the likely benefit of worldwide B.O.
Kitano’s trilogy-long sojourn into the territory of self-reflexive (many would say self-indulgent) dramas (e.g., “Takeshis”) has left his core audience hungry for the filmmaker’s return to the gangster movie. “Outrage” satisfies that craving with its bevy of grisly setpieces, each carefully designed to bring the genre another step closer to horror.
Suffice to say the film isn’t for the squeamish. The yakuzas’ weapons of choice include not only pistols and machine guns but chopsticks, a coiled snake, dental equipment and, most spectacularly, a dastardly combination of rope and automobile. The borderline farcical severity of bodily perforation here would be irredeemable if not for the finesse with which these moments are, um, executed by the director, who wields his own tools with the darkest glee.
The pic’s savage mayhem is set in motion by a simple conversation, wherein it’s revealed that the Chairman (Soichiro Kitamura), boss of the ruling Sanno-kai family, has become upset over the Ikemoto clan’s connections to Murase (Renji Ishibashi) and his crew. Needing help, Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura) asks the all-knowing and super-cool Otomo (Kitano, billed per usual as Beat Takeshi) to keep the peace by stirring up trouble.
Incrementally, petty humiliations across the clans give way to brutally aggressive displays of power. After one yakuza has been slashed with an “X” across the face and another has been beaten to death, Otomo agrees to take care of the situation, promising Ikemoto he’ll rough up old Murase a “little.” This he does in an act of rogue dentistry far exceeding that in “Marathon Man.”
The philosophical explorations of violence and its consequences, distinguishing features of Kitano’s ’90s work in the yakuza genre, are essentially nowhere to be found here. Still, the director’s control over the narrative is drum-tight in a film whose intertwined incidents demand — and reward — one’s close attention. Halfway through, the violence temporarily subsides, only to resume with even greater force. By the final reels, it’s all-out yakuza war.
The film’s large ensemble of actors takes palpable enjoyment in playing these toughs and their victims. As Otomo, the generally deadpan Kitano even cracks a faint smile or two. Playing Ozawa, Tetta Sugimoto flaunts an evil grin worthy of Richard Widmark in “Kiss of Death.” As Otomo’s loyal underling Ishihara, Ryo Kase, in brown-tinted shades, is rivetingly implacable. Women, naturally, are scarce in the picture, although Otomo’s g.f. appears long enough to be chastised viciously by her beau — for disliking his new car. (Obviously, much worse is to follow for her.)
Tech credits are superlative, particularly Katsumi Yanagijima’s gliding, richly dark cinematography, Keiichi Suzuki’s playfully synth-laden score, and a sound design that sends bullet casings hurling to the surround speakers while keeping the punches squarely in one’s face.