Magnolia1. There's a betrayal, or a double-cross, something, at the beginning of "Outrage," and even though I'm not quite sure what it was exactly, I know that everyone was extremely upset about it. I know this because, in pretty much every scene for the rest of the movie, one Japanese man does something just awful to another Japanese man. (Briefly, an African man shows up, awful things are done to him, and then we're back to the Japanese again.) This is obviously an oversimplification of Takeshi Kitano's "Outrage," right? It's not just one scene of mob violence after another, with no context or characterization, right? I'm just dull. Has to be. Right?
2. Yeah, not so sure. Kitano, who wrote, directed and stars, made his name a decade or so ago from his minimalist yakuza gangster movies but took some time off before returning to the genre with "Outrage." It seems he was away because he didn't have all that much to say. "Outrage" is minimalist to the point of self-parody. The film's essential setup: Man is offended by another man; man shoots/maims man; friends of shot/maimed man shoot/maim other man. And that's sort of it. It's difficult to keep all the characters straight, let alone their yakuza allegiances or their motivations, and after a while, the whole movie sort of blurs into one death scene after another.
3. I suspect this is by design -- it's almost postmodern, to make a revenge yakuza movie in which the revenge is irrelevant and muted, that you just get what you paid for and that's it; it borders on the experimental -- but that doesn't make it any more of a pleasure to watch. "Outrage" turns into a long, boring succession of "inventive" deaths, expertly shot (Kitano's signature trick -- of holding shots of ultraviolence a beat or two longer than one would seem necessary, in long, excruciating takes -- is surprisingly resilient) but meaningless. It becomes as deadening, one after another after another, to the audience as it is to the characters.
4. Not that Kitano doesn't come up with some inventive ways to off his yakuza. I will say that if I were a gangster, I would never, ever enter a bathhouse. ("Eastern Promises" also taught me this.) Also, there's no reason to just shoot some guy in the head. Sheesh, why do that? Isn't it a lot more fun to stick him in the back seat of a car, tie a rope around his neck, extend the rope out the window, tie to it to a bike rack and floor the accelerator? I'd have to say so! (Plus, it's cheaper, and environmentally friendly.) If "Outrage" is remembered for anything, though, it's for a scene that takes place in a dentist's office. Odontophobes like myself -- there is nowhere on earth I'd rather be less than a dentist's chair -- are heretofore highly advised to avoid "Outrage." I could tell you more, but trust me, you don't want to know. (I'm currently typing this while hiding under my desk.)
5. I'm giving short shift to "Outrage" here. It's not particularly impassioned, but I suspect my indifferent, numbed reaction is rather sort of the point. Those with more energy for this sort of business might be able to track all the back-stabbings and plot machinations that I gave up on about 45 minutes in. (Or maybe not. I was so lost.) And the film looks fantastic, and is well-paced, and each scene carefully constructed: We're in the hands of someone who clearly knows what he's doing. I just don't think he's doing anything. By the time the umpteenth double-cross had come around, and someone else needed revenge, again, you just want to tell these guys to go take a nap, or go do whatever yakuza do to unwind. If organized crime characters were as short-triggered and quick to ultra-intense violence as the characters in "Outrage," you wouldn't need cops; everyone would just kill each other off in a week. The deliberations and strategies are the point, after all. They're what make it fun. "Outrage" is a lot of things, but it sure isn't fun. And I'm serious about the dentist thing.