by Richard von Busack
TAKESHI KITANO'S new film is almost plot-free but rich with incident, visual skill and loads of violence. Outrage shows the Japanese filmmaker at the top of his craft. The action consists essentially of a cascading series of assassinations in the world of Japanese gangsters. The ritual finger-chopping apology, yubitsume, isn't enough to smooth over the anger of rival families. (A million yen and a severed digit is described like so: "You call petty cash and a punk's finger an apology?")
Above the conflict is "Mr. Chairman," a seemingly retired godfather in a wardrobe of Nehru jackets and leisure suits, the one man allowed to go collarless in a world of tightly knotted ties. At the bottom are a squad of barely differentiated, shaggy-haired, earringed thugs. In between is middle management, gray-faced career criminals who look like death barely warmed over.
One such lifer is Otomo (Kitano, performing, as usual, as "Beat" Takeshi), who seems caught between the unspooling violence and the police. One copper, whom Otomo regularly pays off, has known him since the days they were boxers together.
Outrage depicts a world almost completely devoid of women, except for whores and bar girls, as dead-faced as their "guardians." The storytelling is discursive, but in an enjoyable way. Note the slow fadeouts ending the episodes in a section about the picking up, Mickey-Finning, badgering, bending and elimination of a diplomat from an imaginary African country; the story isn't essential to the main arc, but it brings out the dry, evil humor of a case of extortion.
Kitano's Otomo—Bronsonish: heavy-lidded, slightly twitchy, leathery—barely registers a gradually tightening noose around him. And he makes other actors playing a gangster today look flashy, bogus and chattering. "How's everybody?" asks the cop toward the end of the film. "Everybody's dead," Otomo replies. And he's even better as a director, with praiseworthy use of wide screen and deep background. He has such a reservoir of talent that he can throw away ideas, such as a simple assassination on a lonesome causeway at a hazily blue-filtered magic hour, carried out underneath the latticed towers of electrical lines on a one-way road.