Suckas better recognize, because Takeshi Kitano is back, and he ain’t suffering no fools. “Beyond Outrage” is the most violent and brutal of Kitano’s body of work yet, and considering the writer-director-star is known for his shocking, graphic Yakuza dramas, that’s something worth noting. As back-to-basics as “Outrage” seemed, coming after a string of quieter, more experimental fare from the filmmaker that never even reached American shores, “Beyond Outrage” takes the standard gangster movie template and blasts it out of the water. Yet, for all it’s violence, “Beyond Outrage” is unmistakably a work of the master himself, feeling like a more contemporary chapter of the book Kitano’s been writing for a long time, in a similar manner as Martin Scorsese tackling “The Departed.”
Kitano’s Otomo was double crossed beyond double crossed at the close of “Outrage,” but what few of the characters realize is that he’s survived. Faking his death, authorities instead sent him to prison, far beyond the reach of Yakuza hands. But two crime families have risen to take organized crime to an entirely new level, and both are threatening a full-scale war due to the insubordination of lower-ranked goons (including an Otomo enemy from “Outrage”) as well as the unpredictability of an outside crime family questioning the value of alliances to anyone.
Free from the violence and tyranny, Otomo stews in prison about the betrayals that sent him there. But when he’s visited by an overeager crooked cop who suggests he break free to introduce a wild card into this volatile situation, he bristles at him as if he were an orderly, scoffing at the officer’s brazen suggestion. Otomo claims he would be violating the law of the Yakuza, sickened by the fact that he’d be erasing the crimes of others’ against these laws as well. But, the more he talks, and the more he carries himself with this stubborn anger, it’s more clear -- Otomo works for no man, and he will be no such attack dog.
Answering desperate pleas, eventually Otomo accepts being released into the wild, and is welcomed as a potential ally by both families. However, he soon makes it clear to all parties involved that he is no longer a Yakuza. Dropping the language and practices of these crime families, Otomo sets up his own operations, destroying both worlds from the inside.
His goals reflect a myriad series of topics. Most plainly, and commercially, Otomo seeks revenge for the wrongs done against him. But he doesn’t so much blame particular people as he implicates the system itself, blasting through tradition as if it were a paper napkin. His revenge is not against the enemies of the first film (but of course it is) as much as it’s against the poison from which they’ve spawned. Destroy the poison, Otomo reasons, and perhaps something will grow from the remains.
Of course, Kitano’s also taking fire at the very artifice that is the Yakuza film, as he became associated with crime pictures for so long that his non-action pictures were ignored. The Toronto Film Festival invented an award for him named after his then-recent movie “Glory To The Filmmaker,” a dubious suggestion given that that film, and the following non-violent efforts, found no home in America. Even his biggest stateside hit, the period film “Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman” dealt with organized crime, if only in a very different venue, and with a major pre-established character. “Outrage” felt like an angry concession to commercialism, a dour-faced recycling of the themes he pursued more artfully in bracingly exciting work like “Fireworks (Hana-bi),” “Sonatine“ and “Boiling Point.”
But “Beyond Outrage” feels like he’s taking a torch to the entire concept, flaying the outdated notion of this genre defining his work -- one minor baseball-related scene which harkens back to “Boiling Point” even suggests as much. Perhaps it’s too late -- while the “serious” filmmakers earned more choice replacement at the New York Film Festival last year, “Beyond Outrage” landed in their Midnight Movies section, whereas a decade ago Kitano would have gotten magazine covers out of a US premiere for his latest. But as Kitano’s poker-face reacts in the final moments of the film, he registers the appropriate indifference: nothing can dilute the sheer force of a passionless bullet from the gun of an expert. [A-]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2012 New York Film Festival.