With the release of BEYOND OUTRAGE on disc & digital platforms this month, regular Madman contributor and Twitchfilm critic Kwenton Bellette takes a look at the work of Takeshi Kitano.
Takeshi Kitano is a legend. Much like peers of his ilk, he has defined cinema and crafted his own unique auteur style through the balance of poignant, realized violence and a Zen-like pacing. He has proven himself both in the global festival circuit and at home in Japan and has garnered many accolades for his impressive body of work.
Frankly Kitano can do whatever he wants at this point, which brings us to his latest release BEYOND OUTRAGE, an alternative sequel to his already Yazuka-centric OUTRAGE. How did it come to this point that Kitano could release what seems like two very similar films in such a short timeframe? What is the point of such a move? Let’s look into the reasoning’s behind this and the catalyst for his genre driven comeback.
It is hard to pin down Kitano, some of his films have been released through action labels (Eastern Eye), others through auteur labels (Director’s Suite); truly a talented man that can traverse entertainment through genre and art house.
After directing his rendition of ZATOICHI, Kitano entered an extremely self-reflexive period, centering on the art and the artist. Much like what Korean director Kim Ki-duk would later do in ARIRANG, but in a substantially more entertaining way.
Kitano released a trilogy of films about himself as director, artist and his body of work. They are outstanding pieces of cinema and the most absurd of the three, TAKESHIS’, is out here on DVD. At times it plays out more like a David Lynch trip than a Kitano joint but this is certainly not a negative thing.
This aforementioned trilogy crossed the boundaries of meta-narrative. The film TAKSHIS’ followed both Takeshi himself as director of his own films and another Takeshi (played by Takeshi also) a convenience store clerk. After they both have a chance encounter, both Takeshis’ get caught up in a hodge-podge narrative amalgamating Takeshi’s previous films, particularly his hardboiled Yakuza efforts and philosophical musings. This bizarre accumulation of layered stories and the absolute shattering of the fourth wall is not only high engaging, but ultimately a wonderful meditation and critique of his body of work. Fans could revel in the references and appreciate the trip through his filmography.
The other two efforts, not available in Australia used completely separate but bizarre fictions to critique the artist; he is literally a complete failure of a painter in ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE and a struggling director in GLORY TO THE FILMMAKER! While GLORY is more slapstick with the feeling of his earlier comedic works and stand-up before he became a revered auteur, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE is an utterly depressing affair. It is still funny, but it basically recounts the message that artists will struggle and never get anywhere in their lives, definitely not motivational material for other creative workers out there.
With the palette cleansed (so to speak), Kitano returned to his pseudo-roots with a thoroughly masculine, talky and ultra-violent Yakuza hit. OUTRAGE not only proved that Kitano hasn’t gone soft, it actually pushed the limits of the crime narrative into an absurd and unforgiving territory. The film builds until an immense crescendo of violence overtakes all that has come before it.
Two years later Kitano releases his first ever sequel! Selling out? Hardly, there is nothing about BEYOND OUTRAGE that suggests anything but pure passion and dedication to the genre he loves the most. Both films are a catharsis, and given how BEYOND OUTRAGE concludes you’d be safe in assuming a third one is in the pipeline.
What is Kitano’s intention? How did he make a sequel ever more insane than the first? Upon closer inspection both films have completely different tones and pacing. Arguably, they are both an exercise to find the right way to tell a crime family’s epic tale, BEYOND OUTRAGE feels far more intelligent and thoughtfully made than its predecessor.
Although I adore both, the second is such a vast refinement that builds like a thriller until Kitano delivers a near apocalyptic level of eye-for-an-eye murder sprees. All of this feels earned and contributes greatly to this epic narrative of turf wars and also acts as a harsh critique on inane Yakuza codes, creeds and Japanese society in general.
BEYOND OUTRAGE is practically a true story, retelling the hack and slashes pieces of actual Yakuza activity, with Kitano at the center; shuffling mercilessly along, gun in hand, an utterly stark coldness in his eyes, the man is not slowing down anytime soon.
The absurdity springs from how ubiquitous, process-driven and corporate-like this organization has become. Reading into it, Beyond Outrage is far less insane than the actuality of Yakuza culture in Japan today. Despite this, the jaw-dropping finale of the film earns the title’s moniker of ‘Beyond’, and that alone is well worth another gritty trip down the grey and unforgiving but emerging underworld of Japan.
BEYOND OUTRAGE is out now on disc & digital. You can also find a profile on Takeshi Kitano here, along with much of his back catalogue.