Outrage Beyond: Venice Review

A tough slog at first, Takeshi Kitano's latest yakuza crime spree should come with an explanatory manual, but the cumulative payoff of nasty humor, intrigue and visceral kill thrills is considerable.

Leaner on violence than 2010's "Outrage," this sequel should prove another hit in Japan while finding favor internationally among Takeshi Kitano's culty fan base.

VENICE – Devotees awaiting a return to the brilliantly idiosyncratic form of Takeshi Kitano’s best work, like Sonatine and Hana-bi, will have to keep hoping. But the maverick Japanese writer-director-actor known for his vicious set-pieces and macabre sense of humor eventually delivers some lip-smacking pleasures in the slow-ignition yakuza thriller Outrage Beyond.

A sequel to 2010’s Outrage that picks up where we left off with the increasingly powerful Sanno crime clan, the film demands concentration. Kitano doles out reams of yappy exposition in the opening stretch and requires his audience to sift through a complex web of characters across two crime families, the police force and a government ministry.

At first it seems the ranks of gruff middle-aged men in designer suits will continue expanding forever, and clarity is a long time coming. But the film becomes progressively more involving, breaking down volatile power structures, orchestrating crosses and double-crosses, and peppering the talky action with contained bursts of muscular violence and cruel comedy.

Kitano has been making unconventional yakuza and cop films for more than two decades so it’s not surprising that his focus would graduate now to shifting styles of operation on both sides of the law.

Much is made here of the erosion of traditional codes of honor and family loyalty, with disgruntled old-school mobsters being pushed aside for young hedge-fund hot shots. They run the Sanno organization much like a corporate entity, while the alter kockers grumble quietly about such things as meals no longer being served at executive meetings. It’s a droll vision of organized crime, and worlds apart from, say, the American, Italian or Russian equivalents. Women barely enter the picture here.

There’s also a distinct blurring of the lines between law enforcement, criminality, commerce and government, with intricate layers of corruption at every turn.

Amusingly, one of the most morally bankrupt figures here is Detective Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata), a manipulative agent on the organized crime beat who heads an effort to chop the Sanno down to size. His partner, the younger beanpole Shigeta (Yutaka Matsushige), is sourly appalled by Kataoka’s methods.

Leadership of the Sanno has been seized by silver fox Kato (Tomokazu Kiura) and his hot-tempered underboss Ishihara (Ryo Kase), with the old guard forewarned that they need to pull their weight or be cut loose. Kataoka’s strategy is to seed friction within the family, angling to start a mutiny, as well as between the Sanno and allied clan the Hanabishi, headed by devilish geezer Fuse (Shigeru Koyama).

With their adherence to the vintage style of negotiating over sake and severing the occasional finger to atone for slip-ups, the Hanabishi provide a humorous contrast with the more bureaucratic Sanno. And Fuse is a hilariously dry character, his traditional robes standing out amid a sea of natty pinstripes.

When Kataoka’s initial tactics fail to achieve the intended result, he steps up the offensive by springing Otomo (Kitano, using his acting alias Beat Takeshi) from prison. A former boss of a small family with ample reason to hate the Sanno, Otomo was last seen being stabbed and left for dead by scar-faced rival Kimura (Hideo Nakano). Otomo is mulling a move to South Korea and a less taxing life of crime, while Kimura has withdrawn from the yakuza to run a baseball batting cage. But Kataoka – who is both a puppetmaster and a trusting idiot – somehow manages a rapprochement between the two enemies, unleashing them against the big guys.

Having Otomo back on the scene is bad news especially for barking upstart Ishihara, who has much to fear. When the sharkskin-suited climber inevitably gets his comeuppance, it’s in a gloriously comic death by baseball launcher, which is right up there with the most inventive and subversively funny of Kitano’s screen kills. That scene accelerates the body count of the film’s punchy final third, which makes up for its more effortful opening stretch.

Holding off on the blood-letting for much of the running time, Kitano and cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima frame the crime lords and their minions in elegantly composed power tableaux that vaguely recall Francis Ford Coppola’s first two Godfather films, minus Gordon Willis' masterfully shadowy textures. The decision to shoot in somber light and with a greenish pallor yields almost a 1960s look.

As always, Kitano himself is the most eccentric presence, a playful smile creeping across Otomo’s face as he applies a drill to the skull of some hapless pawn. (Though in keeping with this film’s unusual restraint, the actual gore is held to a minimum, mostly played offscreen.) Kohinata plays Kataoka a little broadly but provides useful running commentary. Sharper work comes from Nakano as the broodingly intense Kimura, who has one especially memorable moment of self-sacrifice; from Kase’s deliciously evil Ishihara; Koyama as wily operator Fuse; and from Toshiyuki Nishida and Sansei Shiomi as his scowling underbosses. They make the Hanabishi negotiation scenes among the film’s best.

Outrage was a massive hit in Japan and Warner is planning a wide October rollout for the sequel, which should do similarly well. It’s too convoluted and slow in cohering to break beyond a small niche internationally, but Kitano cultists will eat it up.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (In Competition)

Production companies: Bandai Visual, TV Tokyo Omnibus Japan, Warner Bros. Pictures Japan, Office Kitano

Cast: Beat Takeshi, Toshiyuki Nishida, Tomokazu Miura, Ryo Kase, Hideo Nakano, Yutaka Matsushige, Fumiyo Kohinata, Katsunori Takahashi, Kenta Kiritani, Hirofumi Arai, Sansei Shiomi, Akira Nakao, Shigeru Koyama

Director-screenwriter: Takeshi Kitano

Producers: Masayuri Mori, Takio Yoshida

Director of photography: Katsumi Yanagijima

Production designer: Norihiro Isoda

Music: Keiichi Suzuki

Costume designers: Kazuko Kurosawa, Yohji Yamamoto

Editors: Takeshi Kitano, Yoshinori Ota

Sales: Celluloid Dreams

No rating, 112 minutes