There are approximately 10120 board configurations possible in the game of chess. And with his previous two films in the “Outrage” series, it felt a little like Takeshi Kitano was going to take us through them all. Recasting corrupt cops, corporate-style gangster middlemen, bosses and lowlifes as bishops, knights, kings and pawns, and moving their dwindling number around the board in ceaseless permutations, Kitano created a labyrinthine yet hermetically contained Yakuziverse in 2010’s lean, bloody “Outrage,” and 2014’s knottier, twistier “Beyond Outrage.” But as prepared as the series’ fans might think they are for the intensely talky, overpopulated and intricate rhythms of the trilogy’s conclusion, “Outrage Coda,” it’s undeniably a challenge to keep all the lines of loyalty and betrayal clear. With bloodletting kept to a minimum until the hour mark or so, it feels like Kitano has changed his game from chess to the less-spectator-friendly, more territorial Go — in which the possible configurations are at least 50 orders of magnitude greater and pieces are constantly added but nothing actually moves.
The film suffers somewhat from a sort of narrative exhaustion, with the gears grinding rustily in the opening act to get a new plot into motion after Kitano’s character, Otomo, had more or less killed everyone of note by the end of ‘Beyond.’ It especially feels the lack of the first installments’ genially two-faced policeman Kataoka, who was the yin to Otomo’s yang, eternally playing both ends against the middle, but having a grudging fondness for his ostensible adversary’s less politic approach to problem solving. Instead, ‘Coda’ gives us a couple of comparatively vanilla cop characters, whose underdeveloped motivations mean they never provide much of a foil for all the gangland infighting. Then again, that might not be so bad, considering the last thing this film needs is more men in dark suits with arcane agendas conspiring to betray their superiors, only to double-cross their co-conspirators.
Having slashed and burned all other bridges, then gone back to riddle them with bullets, Otomo is now off-grid on Korea’s Jeju Island working for regional boss/fixer Chang (Tokio Kaneda, always looking like he’s in the middle of a chemical peel). But when a vacationing Hanada (Pierre Taki), a mid-level member of Japan’s powerful Hanabishi clan, roughs up some of Chang’s prostitutes, Otomo is sent in to ensure reparations are made. (Incidentally, feast your eyes on the two battered call-girls, as they will be the last females you’ll see in the exclusively masculine, growly/shouty world of “Outrage Coda.”)
Obviously, Hanada decides it would be easier and cheaper to kill Otomo’s errand-boy and hightail it back to the protection of his powerful clan in Japan. Against Chang’s wishes, Otomo follows, accompanied by sidekick Ichikawa (Nao Omori, bringing a welcome rumpled charm) and so is drawn into the power struggle going on within the Hanabishi. Chairman Namura (Ren Ohsugi), an ex-trader who has no tattoos and served no jail time, wields authority but commands little respect from the old guard — generational tensions are an ongoing theme — including his second-in-command, Underboss Nishino (Toshiyuki Nishida), and Deputy Underboss Nakata (Sansei Shiomi). That’s a lot of three-syllable ‘N’-names to keep straight as the subtitles whip past and various underlings in identical tailoring discuss who’s loyal to whom. So it’s a testament to Kitano’s effortlessly sleek, inherently watchable filmmaking (he reteams with regular DP Katsumi Yanagijima and uses the atonal descending motif of composer Keiichi Suzuki’s score to good effect) that you’re just about kept in your seat throughout all the speechifying.
One of the distinguishing features of his work has always been how intelligently Kitano the director (Takeshi) uses Kitano the actor (“Beat”). And “Outrage Coda” is no exception: Kitano understands that Otomo’s inherently fascinating presence — his strange shuffling gait and his weathered, seen-it-all face, only rarely split by a slightly deranged, lopsided smile — is the film’s most potent weapon, and accordingly he deploys it sparingly. There’s relatively little of Otomo in the film’s first hour, and until the point at which he declares, simply, he’s going to “take down the Tokyo Hanabishi,” all the mayhem of which we know he’s capable remains latent.
Finally, we get the violent treats our patience deserves: the machine-gun-toting Otomo and Ichikawa engulf a ballroom of bad guys with a tsunami of bullets and blood squibs, then find inventive use for a ball-gag, a bomb and very long fuse. But though it ramps up to an enjoyably definitive ending (impressive given that the series’ ultimate moral, about the cyclical futility of the yakuza lifestyle, means it could easily be reset for another go-round) the final outrage of this final ‘Outrage’ might just be how little real outrage there is within a constant, repetitive coda.