Beyond Outrage (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Two people are found dead in a car that had been pulled from underwater: the male was a cop and the female was a nightclub hostess. Two detectives, Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata) and Shigeta (Yutaka Matsushige), observe the scene from a distance. They suspect that the corpses have something to do with the Sanno clan, part of the yakuza, and the escalating influence it has garnered over the past five years under new leadership. Though Kataoka has a special connection with the Sanno family, even he is smart enough to know that hierarchy of power is due to be reshuffled.
Written, directed, and starring Takeshi Kitano, playing a former yakuza boss who is about to be released from prison, “Beyond Outrage” is a near-miss in that although there remains to be a story to be told after its predecessor, there is not enough suspense and thrills to sustain its rhythmic macho swagger. We sit through a plethora of dialogue and attempt to figure out the labyrinthine connections, potential twists, and power play, but the payoff leaves a lot to be desired.
When Kitano is front and center, one cannot help but pay attention to his character. Though Otomo is aging and seemingly penitent about what he has done in the past, especially toward a former rival, Kimura (Hideo Nakano), we cannot help but suspect he is up to something far greater than what his appearance and behavior suggest. Can a man with an extremely violent past, who has wielded so much power and influence, really lead a life that is simple, humble, and safe? The magic lies in Kitano being able to communicate conflicting emotions without saying a word or moving about. When his character utters a string of words or raises his voice just a little, there is precision in what is conveyed. I do not understand Japanese but he made me feel like I could.
The two leaders of the Sanno clan ought to have been fleshed out further. Kato (Tomokazu Miura) and his underboss, Ishihara (Ryô Kase), have signature dominating presences in that one his older and has a bit of weight while the latter is younger, wearing spectacles, and frail-looking. There is talk about how much they have done since the last film in order to extend the influence and power of their clan but we do not really get to see them put into action what they are supposedly great at doing. Instead, we watch them hold meetings and looking stern, sometimes yelling at their minions or demanding remuneration for being disrespected and dishonored.
Equally important is the lack of tension and depth of the relationship between the two detectives. I guess Shigeta is supposed to embody the audience’s perspective given his and our lack of experience or understanding of the yakuza. I did not feel as though he is an effective conduit because he does not say a lot or fails to ask the important questions when it really counts. In the latter half, I caught myself asking why the character was even written in the first place. Out of the supporting characters, he is the most dispensable.
The climax and falling action are quite limp. Dead bodies and shootouts do not mean a thing if the majority of people getting assassinated are mere minions or, worse, the picture reverting to off-screen deaths. What should contain excitement or thrill feels rushed. The snow burn of the first half does not at all complement the careless, inelegant execution of the final thirty minutes.
★★★ / ★★★★
Mr. Chairman (Sôichirô Kitamura) presides three yakuza families. Although two, one led by Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura) and the other by Ôtomo (Takeshi “Beat” Kitano), are already under his control, drug-dealing Murase (Renji Ishibashi) remains reluctant. This is unacceptable for business so Mr. Chairman assigns Ikemoto to lure in Murase. However, Ikemoto’s methods have never been subtle. Soon, a petty rivalry begins to snowball into all-out violence between Mr. Chairman and Murase—and among the Sanno-kai.
Written and directed by Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, “Autoreiji” commands a cold sophistication and seeps through just about every scene. It has a confident way of revealing the inherent ugliness in the seemingly organized hierarchy of the crime syndicate and its members’ immaculately pressed suits. When blood stains the facade of perfection, it is a reminder to them and to us that there is no romance in extortion and other illicit activities. There is only betrayal and a possibility of losing it all.
Everyone hungers for more power. Ikemoto, Ôtomo, and Murase compete for power by acquiring territory. The more territory they manage, the more money end up in their pockets. The more money in their pockets, the more they can give to Mr. Chairman. If pleased, the boss just might consider giving one them a rare promotion. Mr. Chairman, despite being respected and feared, wants more, too. It is not revealed to us exactly what it is he wants; maybe he does not know it either. One thing is certain: the first step is to acquire Murase’s loyalty. But once or if that happens, then what? What does a person on top do when there is no more room for advancement?
At times I became convinced that Mr. Chairman chooses to stir the pot just to see what will happen. Each time he is on screen and the camera pulls back, there is an eerie calm to those in the vicinity. But when the camera zooms in on someone’s face, panic is all the more visible in his subordinates’ eyes. There is fear in saying or doing the wrong thing. Everyone has something to offer yet everyone is dispensable.
Interestingly, Ikemoto and Ôtomo have their own right-hand men with opposite personalities. Ozawa (Tetta Sugimoto), working for Ikemoto, is a silent but deadly threat. He is like a rattlesnake: biding his time and content with observing his target until he recognizes the perfect opportunity to strike. On the other hand, Mizuno (Kippei Shiina), working for Ôtomo, tends to get his hands dirty and derives pleasure from it. One might expect that the two will eventually end up trying to slash each other’s throats. But this picture is not concerned in handing out the predictable.
Inevitably, there is violence and it comes rapidly in irregular intervals. Sometimes, the gore is front and center. Other times, the camera just looks away and we are only allowed to hear the sounds of struggle and pain. I admired the elegance behind its level of control. I was curious as to why only some courses of action were shown. What is considered too violent? Just when I thought I knew the answer, the rules had already changed. In a way, this reflects the rules—or lack thereof—the men try to abide by. But then again maybe only on a superficial level. After all, when it comes to life or death, our loyalty is only to ourselves.
Batoru rowaiaru (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★
Japan’s economy had collapsed which thrusted everyone’s lives into uncertainty. Since unemployment rate was at its worst, no one was happy. Some adults even killed themselves and left their children to fend for themselves. Students ceased to attend school which contributed to more violence in the streets. As a solution, the government introduced the Millennium Education Reform Act, also known as Battle Royale (BR) Act, where a high school class was to be randomly selected, kidnapped, and taken to a remote island. Their assignment was kill each other with various weapons. As a reward, the last person standing would be allowed to go home. The high concept of “Batoru rowaiaru,” based on a novel by Koushun Takami, worked best when its biting satire was front and center. The strongest scenes were found in the beginning as the students were forced by their former seventh grade teacher, Kitano (Takeshi Kitano), to watch an instructional video on how to survive in the island. The enthusiasm of the girl on the screen was similar to those late-night infomercials aimed to brainwash that what was being advertised had to be bought. But instead of an object being seen as a valuable commodity that had to be owned, the video convinced the students that the lives around them were commodities that just had to be taken. I wished that the screenplay by Kenta Fukasaku maintained that darkness instead of focusing on the romantic feelings between Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda). While their superficial interactions provided some heart to the story, they weren’t interesting enough compared to Mitsuko (Kô Shibasaki), a surprisingly ruthless girl who actually thrived on hunting for blood, Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama), the long-distance runner who stuck to her rituals despite the unfolding chaos, and Sugimura (Sôsuke Takaoka), desperate to find a specific girl to confess to her his true feelings before it was too late. As Shuya and Noriko unnecessarily promised each other multiple times that they were going to protect each other and find a way out, I found myself hoping that someone would sneak up behind them and put them out of their–and our–misery. Over time, though still watchable because the violence remained shocking and amusing, the film became more predictable. Since most of the scenes were tilted toward one or two groups of survivors, allowing us to warm up to them if they were “good” or getting us riled up if they were “bad,” we knew that they eventually had to face one another. The material failed to offer something special, perhaps a deep exploration of the hungry and vigilant animal in all of us when our lives were at a precipice, in order to overcome the plot’s necessary contrivances. “Battle Royale,” directed by Kinji Fukasaku, was at its best when it forced our eyes not to blink as the teens sliced, shot at, and pounded each other’s flesh like cavemen attempting to put down a lesser animal. At its worst, however, deep insight was set aside for lines like, “I’ve been in love with you for so long.” I sensed William Golding rolling in his grave.