“Beyond Outrage” (2012)
by A.J. Hakari
Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in!
The amount of bullets the Corleone family blazed through over its entire tenure has nothing on how often Al Pacino’s signature line from The Godfather Part III has been parodied and imitated. But folks take for granted how succinctly it summarizes the appeal a genre teeming with criminal behavior has for regular, law-abiding moviegoers. The line implies a reluctance, an acknowledgment of Michael Corleone’s violent past interfering with his desires for a future on the straight and narrow. It assures viewers that he’s not a completely bad guy, that a shot at redemption is still in the cards, and it’s an angle gangster cinema has been playing from its 1930s heyday to modern times. Not one to buck tradition, director Takeshi Kitano has crafted his latest picture, Beyond Outrage, to easily assume a place at the table next to his prior genre dramas Brother and Sonatine. Ultimately, it doesn’t connect the many dots scattered across its self-made saga as effectively as it could’ve, but those who enjoy both politics and gunplay out of their crime thrillers will find much to admire here.
Following the events of 2010’s Outrage, the Sanno family’s influence has skyrocketed in the yakuza world. With enemies on both sides of the law having been disposed of without mercy, new boss Kato (Tomokazu Miura) is now free to expand the syndicate even deeper into society. But concerned that Kato has become too big for his britches, Detective Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata) has put his own personal plan to wipe out not only the Sanno but the rival Hanibishi clan into motion. Using his cover as a corrupt cop at the yakuza’s service, Kataoka instigates what conflict he can between the two families, gladly causing blood to spill in the name of taking everyone down. He also has a secret weapon in Otomo (Kitano), an ousted gangster who was rumored to have died but is alive, well, and peacefully doing time in jail. Otomo is hesitant to return to his former life, but with the detective’s prodding, temptation gets the best of him, and he’s swiftly on his way to settling many an old grudge the only way he knows how: with the most brute force possible.
As of right now, I’ve still yet to see the original Outrage, and before popping in its sequel, I asked my fellow hopeless cinephiles if watching it was required to keep from getting lost here. I was told that going into Beyond Outrage cold was fine, which is true for the most part, although the opening act did have me wishing I gave its predecessor a whirl after all. Long story short, there’s a lot of information dispersed in the first batch of scenes, laying out what characters have loyalties to what families, who has a vendetta against who, and so on. It’s nice that Kitano (pulling triple duty here as writer, director, and star) wants those who might’ve missed out on the last film to catch up, but to bring them up to speed with such exposition-heavy chunks of dialogue makes the first half-hour drag a bit. But when the dust settles, Beyond Outrage soon amounts to a pretty compelling gangster tale, in which the crooks are the ones searching for order, and the police (or a lone wolf, at least) are the ones who keep stirring the pot. It’s a game of dominoes we have the pleasure of seeing topple in suitably bloody fashion, with Kitano keeping a close watch on tone, making sure that we feel every literal shot and never letting the requisite violence come across as impersonal or exploitative.
Beyond Outrage has the right mood and stakes in place to draw viewers in, but by the end, we only get a hint of the meat and potatoes that lie beneath the surface. Though we’re never bored by what the characters are up to, one gets the impression that Kitano thinks they’re deeper than they seem. As is, everyone is assigned basically one objective, few of which the narrative dares to examine in much detail. The dirty tactics to which Kataoka resorts in fighting the yakuza are given no background, why retired hood Kimura (Hideo Nakano) joins forces with former rival Otomo is never fully convincing, and Otomo himself remains fairly aloof and emotionless even when external forces are pulling him in so many directions. Perhaps I missed more than I thought in skipping Outrage, but it seems like Kitano engages in a lot of hand-waving here, explaining away motivations aplenty with an all-too simple, “Because honor.” Still, that doesn’t mean Kitano skimps on a cast that’s worth our attention, as the man himself shines in several moments of quiet badassery, Kohinata plays Kataoka with flippant relish, and the supporting players are a diverting blend of blustery yakuza thugs and stone-faced underbosses.
If anything, Beyond Outrage left me eager to see what its predecessor was all about. Though the combination of action and underworld civics will endear to yakuza newcomers more than something as steeped in the philosophic as Sonatine, some advanced knowledge on how Japan’s criminal culture works would be helpful to stay balanced during the film’s initial, info-laden scenes. Kitano has some catching up to do if he wants to keep pace with the likes of Johnnie To’s modern gangster epics, but flawed as it may be, the slickly-presented Beyond Outrage is still a good step forward.