Thursday, January 12, 2012

Outrage (Autoreiji)

OUTRAGE (Autoreiji)                 B                 
Japan  (109 mi)  2010  ‘Scope  d:  Takeshi Kitano

From the opening shot, an upscale Japanese restaurant featuring a gathering of stone-faced yakuza men, an all-male clan of gangsters where there’s not a woman to be seen, all but invisible in this picture of male domination where women are either nonexistent or a pleasant afterthought.  The shot of the parked cars is amusing enough, a line of luxury black sedans like Lexus or Mercedes, most featuring not one but two chauffeurs, where as the cars drive out afterwards the restaurant employees keep their heads bowed until the last car has left.  This is a film faithful to an all but extinct way of life, much like the American fascination with Westerns or the Japanese with samurai movies, where these are the last of the aging gunslingers, wealthy beyond imagination, where they run a monopoly of drug, gambling and prostitution houses, where accepting weekly payoffs keeps them in business, which they feed to the police to turn a blind eye.  There is no honor among thieves, as this cutthroat business simply eliminates its competition every chance it gets, much like a corporate buy out, where young sharks are continually on the loose eying new territory as their own.  The head of the clan is known as Mr. Chairman (Sôichirô Kitamura), where all are subordinate to him, with vying families paying him tribute and respect, even as they jockey for position through neighborhood disputes usually involving money, which they elevate to lack of respect, requiring some humiliating consequence, often involving someone’s life along with loss of territory, which means a demand for more money.  Debts are paid through human sacrifice, the greater the debt, the bigger the slaughter.  Much of it plays out like the Shakespearean Wars of the Roses, a 15th century family squabble of lies and deception, not to mention bloodlust, where ascension to the throne required total decimation of your enemies along with their heirs.   

For some reason, Kitano has developed a highly tuned skill set for filming shocking violence in yakuza movies, where harsh and unremitting gang violence is his specialty, beginning with his first film VIOLENT COP (1989), followed by two masterworks, SONATINE (1993) and FIREWORKS (1997), where much like Clint Eastwood, though with less international acclaim, Kitano always stars as the baddest dude in the movie, a one-man force, usually writing, directing, and editing his films as well.  Kitano brings an updated, modern flair to an old world genre, using a deadpan style of acting, a man of few words, remaining cool and collected while action swirls all around him, often to the point of comic absurdity, as Kitano has continually discovered ingenious ways to inflict violence or kill someone with an economy of means, like a pair of chopsticks, a knife to the neck, or a quick strike of a blade.  In this film, two men willingly chop their fingers off as a gesture of atonement, and in both cases it isn’t enough, as it is seen as a punk gesture.  This protection racket is a façade of loyalty built around a constantly shifting world of betrayal and deceit, where men are promised positions and power, but must carry out acts of retribution to earn it, where they are usually murdered themselves before they can ever achieve what they were promised.  OUTRAGE offers a placid stillness, a meditative calm at the center of all things, where brokered deals from the top provide the illusion of peace and harmony, where under the surface restless agitation reigns, where those forces better prepared to outwit and surprise their enemies are victorious, but only until someone has a chance to outwit them in return.  It’s a musical chairs game of chance where stillness is the goal, but rarely ever achieved, as it’s almost always a temporary mirage.

Arresting imagery is another Kitano trademark, featuring modernist Japanese architecture blended together with the ancient, where modern day resorts with giant windows overlook the sea, oftentimes surrounded by well-tended gardens, including the Buddhist raked sand aesthetic that offers contemplative inspiration, a touch of the divine while men are plotting how best to annihilate their opposition.  It’s interesting how Kitano himself is not a crime boss, but is mostly used as a fix-it man, a guy who cleans up other people’s messes, continually asked to bend but not break, to remain flexible to the needs of others, but never draw too much attention to himself or overshadow his superiors, where he remains a professional operative, a specialist in the trade.  While this film features an impressive cast, the ranks quickly dwindle, subject to wave after wave of attack and counter attack, where it’s often difficult to tell who’s fighting who, where all anyone knows for sure is that nothing remains static, that life remains in a constant state of flux, where in this profession a knowledge of sin is required in eradicating worse sins from within your ranks.  Skimming off the top is an obscenely futile gesture, as money is not subject to question, but is a carefully calculated staple within the yakuza business enterprises, as everyone wants it, but few control the means to hold onto it.  Men are expendable and are more easily sacrificed than losing money, so little time is spent developing friendships, as it’s all about accumulating masses of wealth and power  It’s interesting to see where a few of these men end up by the finale, those that survive, as they were likely working for them all along even as they were innocuously and invisibly distributed through various family operations.  One of the best attributes of this film is the synth musical score, very much in the atmospheric mood of a John Carpenter film, adding suspense and an elegant classicism to the movie.  Already Kitano is busy shooting the sequel OUTRAGE 2, delayed apparently by earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. 

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