Friday, February 17, 2012

Quick Thoughts: Outrage

Finally caught up with Takeshi Kitano's Outrage, and if I had watched it a week or two ago, it probably would have made my runners-up list in my Favorites of 2011 post. Kitano used to specialize in arty Yakuza films, which were identifiable in the way they abruptly punctuated slow, moody stories with brief but shocking acts of violence. Outrage is his first Yakuza film in something like a decade, anticipated as a return to form by some, but it's not exactly what you'd expect.

See, it only seems like a typical, slow burn Kitano gangster film for the first 20 minutes or so, before it completely flies of the rail and stays that way for the next 90. It's a story about two waring Yakuza families, and how one relatively minor incident leads to a violent reprisal, which leads to another violent reprisal.... which leads to another, then another, then another, and then some more, then maybe a quick breather for dialogue, then another reprisal, then another, and another, and so on until everyone is pretty much dead. Once it gets rolling, pretty much every other scene is a savage beatdown or a violent murder. The cast list is basically just a long line of people who get a few lines of dialogue before getting killed. There is little character development, and absolutely no one the audience could possible sympathize with.

What I admired about Outrage, besides Kitano's typically impeccable visual style and deadpan dark humor, was how, despite the movie is almost wall-to-wall violence, it becomes something of an anti-narrative. I've seen plenty of movies about the never-ending cycle of violence, but few quite like this. The whole movie jogs in place, until it arbitrarily ends. Most gangster movies, even if they don't overtly mean to, tend to romanticize or mythologize the characters; Outrage, despite being highly stylized, never feels for a moment like it's celebrating or enjoying its characters. The violence is so pointless and so frequent that, even if entertaining in a way, it still can't help but make the characters all look like dumb, worthless assholes for participating. It never exactly becomes desensitizing (Kitano is way too good at staging dramatic violence for that), but there's something existentially hollow about it all nonetheless. There's an emotional and narrative void at the center of Outrage that I think makes a potent statement about the nature of violence. Doesn't seem like this one was well received, but I thought it was one of Kitano's best.

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