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The fires of stylized violence burn themselves to cold embers in Outrage Coda, the final installment in Takeshi Kitano’s three-part saga set in the Japanese underworld of clan hierarchies, rivalry and senseless murders. He wraps up the show in the only way possible: with more bloodbaths, killings and the evening of scores between warring families, until there is nothing left for another sequel. Perhaps Kitano is weary of a highly formulaic franchise that has little narrative novelty left in it and basically no place to go but to the grave. The message, that violence is “sad and empty,” is clear by now. Though it’s a series that has seen its day, this swan song should attract genre die-hards with its elegant visuals and some humorously imaginative murders which are the director’s trademark.
Once again donning the pin-striped suits of the wry, unkillable gangster Otomo, Kitano (using his acting name of Beat Takeshi) is the film’s heart and soul. He is the hero because he embodies the old yakuza codes better than anyone else and bides no infractions of the rules, on penalty of dealing the perp a very nasty comeuppance. Meticulous and old-fashioned, he is every inch the antihero who knows his time is up, and Kitano pumps him up with heroic stoicism through the last scene.
As in the rest of the series, no other gangster is worth caring about, and their sudden and often gory ends are abstract, even humorous, and never painful to watch. How else to feel when one particularly despicable character is buried up to his neck in the middle of a dark road at night and we wait for a car to pass?
Since the original 2009 Outrage and its 2012 sequel Outrage Beyond depicted the all-out war between two yakuza clans, the Sanno and the Hanabishi, several years have passed and the great gangster Otomo has been all but forgotten by new generations of criminals. He has made a quiet life for himself on South Korea’s scenic Jeju Island, where he works for the powerful Mr. Chang (Kaneda Tokio), a man as silent and reserved as he is. Practically retired from the violent life, Otomo keeps his lieutenant Ichikawa (Omori Nao) company while he goes fishing, but makes it clear he isn’t going to be the butt of any jokes.
The bad times start up again when a young Japanese yakuza named Hanada (Pierre Taki) comes to town for some R&R. Despite a particularly artistic set of art tattoos decorating his chest, he looks and acts like a brain-rattled boxer and attracts attention when he beats up two call girls working in one of Mr. Chang’s hotels. Instead of apologizing, he bumps off one of Otomo’s men and runs back to Japan, igniting a clan feud that soon grows into a raging bonfire.
There are many characters in the film, and they are all male gangsters wearing an impossible collection of suits. Most of them are also notably past retirement age. It’s tough to keep them straight without a score card, but here goes.
The dominant clan that emerged from the last film is the Hanabishi, and Nomura (Ohsugi Ren) is its chairman. A businessman who has not come up through the ranks, he is eyed with ill-concealed intolerance by his ambitious underboss Nishino (amusingly played as a gravel-voiced bulldog by Nishida Toshiyuki) and Nishino’s deputy Nakata (the zip-lipped Shiomi Sansei, who looks like an old-style bank teller). Using his business skills, Nomura plays Nishino off against Nakata with the intention of getting them to bump each other off. The key scene unfolds at night when Nishino’s black limo follows Nakata’s decoy vehicle into a secluded woodland and ends up at the bottom of a lake. Only Hanada survives to tell the tale — but the story, as one can guess, is more complex.
Less seen are the chairman and underbosses of the rival Sanno clan, who got the worse of it in the last film and who are now under the “guardianship” of the overbearing Nishino. They appear mostly around to populate inter-clan meetings in elegantly framed halls of black marble that look like Japanese funerals, which they soon will be after Otomo and Ichikawa come to town. Dark glasses masking his unmovable face, Otomo is both frightening for the havoc he is about to unleash and delightfully reassuring that, more than an hour into the film, the pace is about to pick up, as it does to the rhythm of twin machine guns.
Lest one wonder what the police are doing all this time, Kitano introduces two fairly normal detectives who work in the organized crime department of the metropolitan police, played by Nakamura Ikuji as a cop who knows when to stop investigating and Matsushige Yutaka as his younger, more determined colleague, who doesn’t. The ties that bind the yakuza world to the highest echelons of the police force are so obvious they don’t even warrant discussion. These perfunctory scenes could easily have been left out of the film.
The sophisticated tech work feels a bit sad and empty, too, reflecting the spirit of the story. The gaudy atmosphere of gangland bars and nightclubs soon shifts to the funereal blacks of the yakuza offices in Norihiro Isoda’s production design, lit with stately solemnity by Kitano’s regular cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima, while Kurosawa Kazuko’s gangster costumes indicate that taste is further deteriorating among the new generation.
Production companies: Office Kitano, Bandai Visual, TV Tokyo, Warner Bros. Japan, Tohokushinsha Film Corp.
Cast: Takeshi Kitano (as Beat Takeshi), Nishida Toshiyuki, Kaneda Tokio, Omori Nao, Ohsugi Ren, Shiomi Sansei, Nakamura Ikuji, Matsushige Yutaka
Director-screenwriter-editor: Takeshi Kitano
Producers: Masayuki Mori, Takio Yoshida
Director of photography: Katsumi Yanagijima
Production designer: Norihiro Isoda
Costume designer: Kurosawa Kazuko
Music: Keiichi Suzuki
World sales: Celluloid Dreams
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