Hostile Takeover, by Jack Fleischer
Starring legendary Japanese actor/director/comedian Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, the Japanese gangster flick Outrage feels a tad like a cross between Glengarry Glen Ross and The Departed. It takes a middle management corporate power struggle and puts it square in the bloody underworld of the Yakuza. While the film meanders at time, I’d still label it a fun gangster flick flecked with brutality, treachery, and humor.
Our story begins with a summit of Yakuza underbosses gathering to stay and hear from their aloof “Don” played by Kitamura Soichiro. At the end of the meeting the bosses file out, and that’s when he the boss stops to lecture one of his lieutenants, played by Miura Tomokazu. Informed in no uncertain terms that he needs to correct and adjust his friendly relationship with a rival gangster, this one request spirals out of control resulting in a mob war involving gruesome deaths, wild gunplay, the blackmailing of foreign ambassadors, and corrupt cops.
The film is marked with a muted style. Our characters are clean and composed, and the color palate falls at the grayer end of the spectrum. Without the aid of subtitles, you might watch the beginning of this movie and think it was a commentary on the modern Japanese corporate struggle. Of course this isn’t an illusion that would last too long.
Our first taste of the brutal violence that follows is almost tacit. In order to repay a debt of respect, a finger must be severed with a dull box cutter. Most of the actual “blood“ is off screen, but what you can’t see directly, you can feel in the performances of the actors. From here the body count rises, and by the end of the movie people are being blown away in automatic machine gun fire, succumbing to tossed grenades, and losing their lives after being dragged behind cars.
The violence is over the top at times, but never cartoonish, and the tone is well maintained throughout the flick. There is a clean almost detached feeling you get from all involved. While the title of the film is Outrage, and the driving force of the plot is a constant need to regain “honor,” all of the characters seem to treat their actions as the simple consequences of the business they’re in.
Even though this movie is written, directed, and stars Takeshi Kitano, I wouldn’t say that he hogs the screen. His performance reminds me of a Japanese Walter Matthau circa The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. On the other hand I do believe the film could have benefited from some more editing. Never boring, there are parts that feel both entertaining and perhaps a bit redundant, at times slowing the pace.
Yet even though “Beat” Kitano is a legend of Japanese film, for me the highlight from an acting standpoint was Ryo Kase (Letters from Iwo Jima). Playing the character “Ishihara,” not only does he deliver the film’s only English dialogue, he also makes it into some of the funniest lines in the film.
There is deeper Japanese cinema. There are more clever Japanese gangster movies. This is a very enjoyable crime drama that happens to be in Japanese. But don’t take my word for it – they have already started work of Outrage 2.