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Saturday, January 28, 2012

OUTRAGE: WAY OF THE YAKUZA -- DVD review by porfle

When the CEO of a corporation decides to downsize, you get a pink slip with your paycheck.  But when the big cheese of the Yakuzas thinks it's time to whittle down the old workforce, you're more likely to get ventilated.  In Takeshi Kitano's OUTRAGE: WAY OF THE YAKUZA (2010), you need a program to keep up with all the guys who are being forcibly retired the hard way.

The Yakuza boss known as "Mr. Chairman" looks like a Japanese version of Dennis Mitchell's neighbor Mr. Wilson, a prime example of the banality of evil who orders executions as offhandedly as one might ask you to pass the salt.  When an underling named Ikemoto is told to cold-shoulder rival family boss Murase, with whom he made a "sake pact" in prison, the resulting bad blood erupts into a domino effect of killing with a body count that would make Jason Voorhees green with envy.

This chain reaction of graphic violence has guys getting shot, beaten senseless, or maimed in just about every other scene.  In fact, every time someone walks into camera range we wonder just when and how he's going to get it and who's going to do it.  We never really get to know any of the loads of characters who pop up in the first part of the film just long enough to get whacked, and the dry, somewhat disjointed narrative doesn't become involving until well past the halfway point when it finally settles on one or two key players we can root for, relatively speaking.

Not that we really care about any of them--like one of the taglines says, they're ALL bad guys--but actor-writer-director Kitano's character of capo Otomo, a hangdog, workaday mobster who still retains a shred of honor from the old-school days, seems to have one redeeming quality, which is that he prefers to kill people according to some legitimate business strategy.  With Kitano (who I'll always think of as Sgt. Hara in MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE) giving his usual good performance, Otomo's fight to keep himself and his crew from becoming obsolete is what keeps the film from being just a string of brutal vignettes.

Otomo expects to be treated fairly by his superiors, so he's understandably miffed when they betray the hell out of him after he's brutally murdered everyone on his to-do list.  One of the most interesting things about OUTRAGE, in fact, is seeing whose dirty tricks, betrayals, and reprisals will ultimately prove most effective against everyone else in the ongoing power struggle.  Unlike GOODFELLAS, it skips the part that shows the gangsters enjoying their criminal lives before greed and paranoia turn them against each other.

With all the killing going on in this movie, it's a wonder the surviving Yakuzas have anyone left to order around.  Besides the old bang-bang, Otomo engages in some creative dentistry that will have you cringing, while his sense of humor comes to the fore when he orders someone to stick his tongue out and then cuts it off with an uppercut to the jaw.  Another impromptu execution involving a noose, an automobile, and a guy who's in the wrong place at the wrong time displays more than a little ingenuity.  Meanwhile, more conventional modes of killing and maiming occur in abundance yet their impact is lessened by our lack of emotional investment in them.

The DVD from Magnolia's Magnet label is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Japanese Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include two making-of docs, various cast and crew interviews and Q & A's at Cannes, U.S. and international trailers and TV spots, and trailers for other Magnolia releases.

It's only in the last twenty minutes or so that the various characters and plot threads begin to gel enough for us to be fully invested in what's going on, as the web of deceit closes in around Otomo and his men and Mr. Chairman plays his final cards.  The ending is so matter-of-factly unsentimental that I found it strangely exhilarating.  I only wish that the rest of OUTRAGE: WAY OF THE YAKUZA, as superficially entertaining as it may be, was as engaging.

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