It’s not entirely accurate to say that Takeshi Kitano‘s Outrage played Fantastic Fest in 2010. More apt would be to say that it carved a grisly gash into our brains as we squirmed and squealed with delight. The gangster cinema auteur from the land of the rising sun returns with both figurative and literal vengeance with Outrage Beyond. It’s a safe assumption that the sequel cannot be evaluated without discussing the intimate details of the first film. Therefore for those unacquainted with Outrage, now would be a good time to go sharpen your katana, or sing karaoke. Not Journey, just saying.
All clear? Ok. The corrupt police officer from Outrage, Kataoka, orchestrates a coup to try and unseat the two reigning Yakuza bosses-of-bosses. These were the two vile snakes who betrayed Otomo (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano) to his incarceration and ultimately, seemingly, his death. The coup goes south when a vital conspirator turns out to be less than trustworthy. Now, yet another struggle for power is brewing in the Japanese underworld. The situation getting desperate, only one man can possibly set all this nonsense right…but he died. Right?
We’ve come to the dragon in the rice paddy; a phrase almost certainly not made up. On the one hand, what is about to be revealed is a spoiler; something against which this writer tends to take a hard line. So if your paranoia about such things is of similar severity, cease reading this paragraph, and frankly the rest of this review. However, the fact that his name is in the credits not only as director, but also as star should engender the reasonable assumption that maybe Otomo is still kicking. Indeed he returns, his death after that prison shanking revealed to be a hoax perpetrated by our favorite bent cop.
If the violence in Outrage bordered on horror movie levels, Beat Takeshi is the Japanese Jigsaw in Outrage Beyond. The body count is higher and the assassination devices can be downright devilish in their savage creativity. But surprisingly, the augmentation of carnage does not bog the film down in exploitative tawdriness. There is an undeniably artistry to the way the executions are, well, executed. There are moments of dark comedy that creep into the killings, providing the same levity as characterized the first film. The batting cage death is particularly funny despite its cruelty. Also, several deaths take place either in wide shot or off screen entirely, adeptly leaving much to the audience’s imagination. The off screen deaths do give Otomo a certain force of nature quality, as his will is carried out by unseen gangster wraiths.
In fact, the creativity lent to the violence is indicative of Beat Takeshi’s overall change in visual scheme for Outrage Beyond. It’s not as if Outrage were a poorly shot film, but its concern never really seemed to be masterful cinematography. In the sequel, however, Kitano is far more playful and often experimental with shot composition, scene transitioning, and even sound design. It uniquely counterbalances the ugliness of the killing and makes Outrage Beyond far more striking than its predecessor, in more ways than one. One of the most brutally brilliant sequences is a stabbing in which all audio drops out but for the Foley work. It’s stunning and grotesque at the same time.
For impressive as it looks, for as twistedly satisfying as its plot becomes, and even for the across-the-board high caliber of its performances, Outrage Beyond still presents a challenge for viewers. Like Outrage, it is quite demanding of the audience’s undivided attention. Much as in the first, there is almost a rhythm to the story construction, and the song that plays on loop is called “Meetings and Schemes, Meetings and Schemes.” Characters meet to discuss other characters we’ve either not seen yet, or whose names were not used when they appeared on screen. They then meet with other people to discuss betraying those people. Rub out, rinse blood, repeat. It has become standard to use Game of Thrones as the exemplar for complicated story lines with constantly shifting allegiances and mile-long character rosters to keep straight, but for obvious reasons, the experience of trying to digest Outrage Beyond is more akin to watching Kinji Fukasaku’s The Yakuza Papers. The unfortunate difference being that when Fukasaku moved from one installment to the next, he had the kind courtesy to fully recap the previous chapter at the beginning.
The lesson here is that one should not half-hardheartedly commit to a viewing of Outrage Beyond, lest one be hopelessly lost by its complex story mechanics and have one’s neck broken by the film’s curt, abrupt ending. For fans of Outrage, however, there is a case to be made for the sequel’s superiority to the original. It’s ex-con-trying-to-go-straight setup, it’s gruff but lovable hero forced back into his violent habits, and the slow, smoky sound of its intermittent jazz score gives Outrage Beyond a veneer reminiscent of the crime films that populated the 1970s, Takeshi Kitano filling in for Lee Marvin.
The Upside: Inventive and beautiful cinematography, satisfying bloodletting, and classic feel make a strong case for Outrage Beyond’s superiority to Outrage.
The Downside: The plot is just as complicated as it was in the first go-round.
On the Side: Beat Takeshi likes baseball.