Friday, May 23, 2014

Takeshi Kitano's OUTRAGE BEYOND (2012)

Maybe I was wrong all along, but before I watched the sequel to Takeshi Kitano's Outrage, my impression was that the original film had shown us Kitano's character, the yakuza "Champ" Otomo, getting fatally shanked in prison by a rival he had wronged earlier in the picture. But Outrage was just too popular, I guess, and its popularity demanded a sequel. There were other characters you could follow from the first film, but it wouldn't make sense to have Kitano return as writer and director and not have his on-camera alter ego Beat Takeshi return as Otomo. So sure, he got stabbed, but he got better. We didn't see him actually die. We didn't see him autopsied or cremated. So sure, it could have happened exactly this way. But keeping Otomo alive is just the beginning of Kitano's betrayal of his earlier work.

The virtue of Outrage, at least as I saw it, was in its uncompromising pessimism. It gave you a rooting interest in the ever-manipulated, ever-exploited Champ and kept you hoping that he'd turn the tables on everyone. In 2010, however, Kitano refused the audience that satisfaction. Otomo was caught in an inexorable trap that illustrated the hopelessness of life for most yakuza. In 2012, Outrage Beyond -- look it up on Netflix as Beyond Outrage, but it's the other way around on screen --was the Rocky II of yakuza films. It's a Stallonian sequel that asks the question, "Do we get to win this time?" and answers, "Hell, yeah!"

Fumiyo Kohinata (right in both pictures) plays dangerous games with yakuza in Outrage Beyond.

Kitano keeps himself hidden for the first half-hour or so while reintroducing the other survivors from Outrage. The treacherous winners from the first film are getting a little too arrogant for the police, who put pressure on corrupt detective Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata) to keep them in line. The wily manipulator is burdened with a gung-ho, straight-arrow partner (Yutaka Matsushige) who hates yakuza and questions Kataoka's loyalties. Kataoka, whom we know to be on the take, insists that he thinks of crushing the yakuza all the time, and the scary thing about him is that we don't really doubt this. While not a man of brutal violence like his yakuza interlocutors, Kataoka is arguably the most evil character in either film. He cold-bloodedly plays different families and firms against each other -- actually, he may take pleasure in the way he eggs yakuza into destroying each other. We learn that he's kept Otomo's survival a secret, saving his old pal to unleash when he can do the most damage.

Actually, however, Champ has counted his blessings and, once paroled, simply wants out of the old life. He seems exhausted, or not yet fully recovered from his injury, not even interested in sex after all his time in stir. He considers taking a conventional job or moving to South Korea, but just when he thinks he's out, Kataoka drags him back in. Meanwhile, in perhaps the most unlikely twist of the sequel, Otomo ends up befriending Kimura (Hideo Nakano), the man he disfigured in the first film, who then stabbed him in prison. Kimura got out some time ago and runs a batting cage with two young punks as his so-called soldiers. He's the one person in the picture that Otomo is willing to forgive. Champ figures he had it coming for slashing Kimura's face when he had tried to apologize for an offense, and by now Kimura is willing to let bygones be bygones. Meanwhile, Kataoka struggles to stir up a gang war, inviting malcontent yakuza to get help from out of town and raising fears of Otomo to force a series of provocations that finally draws Champ into the fray. It takes a bullet in his side and the murder of Kimura's proteges -- shown as bullying jerks in their first appearance, we're meant to pity them eventually -- to revert Otomo into the killing machine Kataoka had hoped to see. Wounded in an elevator, Champ seems to mock the implausibility of his endurance, asking: "Why do they always aim at my belly?" He is a resilient cuss, and once he's up and running again Outrage Beyond becomes a relentless killfest.

Otomo and Kimura hook up with a big outside outfit to fight their old antagonists -- they see an opportunity to expand and deplore the current boss's treacherous route to power -- and the rout is on. Suddenly the bad guys are beset by seemingly limitless resources, while Champ rediscovers his knack for creative torture. The highlight death scene this time is the comeuppance dealt to one of Otomo's treacherous underlings from the first film. After pissing himself (it's always a demerit for a director to show this), the man is tied securely to a sofa chair and set up in Kimura's batting cage as the pitching machine is loaded with baseballs. Nothing else is quite as flamboyant, and the killing actually becomes monotonous after a while.

Once he's started, however reluctantly, Otomo never seems to know when to quit. Almost inevitably, he and Kimura are marked for elimination, and after Kimura is eliminated, it looks like Kitano is setting up a Wild Bunch style climax as Champ arrives at a funeral full of his enemies and an almost gleeful Kataoka puts a gun in his hand. It doesn't quite turn out that way, as Kitano instead closes with a scene that may well have made audiences applaud. If so, that would only reaffirm the extent to which Outrage Beyond is a kind of sell-out for the sake of audience gratification -- and it can't be a good sign that Kitano reportedly has been negotiating to make a third Outrage movie. That is outrageous in its own right. To be fair, Outrage Beyond is an entertaining movie on its own terms. But it entertains in a way that cheapens its predecessor, in my view at least, and that's a shame.

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