Our weekend trip to Palm Springs was not completely educationless. While we were there, we were able to take in a foreign flick at the Palm Springs Film Festival. The film was Outrage, basically following the complete overhaul of a Japanese gangster syndicate, starring and directed by Takeshi Kitano, described to me as the Robert DeNiro of Japanese film.
Mostly, I enjoyed myself. One of the adjustments I had to make in my own mind was the difference between this film, and a typical American gangster movies (and American films in general). Basically this film begins, as what I now realize is, right in the middle of the action. But there is such an understated way of getting to the action, you think at first they must be setting up the story, or getting to the whole point. What you don’t realize is that we’re already in the story. But because of this, there’s this constant waiting-for-something-to-start feeling, which kind of makes the movie feel kinda long.
There are a handful of crime families headed up by The Chairman, donned in pristine white track suits and doted upon by a group of young men in not-so-fancy, yet still-pristine, white track suits in his mansion. This film is all about how he manipulates others to take each other down, paring down this umbrella organization of ruthlessly violent yakuza (gangsters).
A couple of points about this movie I found fascinating…
1. The Blood. As mentioned earlier, this film is insanely violent. But in a way that’s almost comical. You can feel Quentin Tarantino sitting in the theater and taking notes right next to you. But the blood in this film is shot with such beautiful artistry. I have never thought of blood as being so beautiful, so poetic, especially in a gangster movie, but it was. There’s a point where one of the bosses is slicing off the tip of his finger to give to the Chairman. We can hear it, and we see his face; next is a cut to the floor, where we’re still listening to the blade slice through skin, muscle, and bone, but we see small drops of vividly red blood splatter on the white and light grey granite floor. The blood drips as though it’s dancing. A truly beautiful shot.
2. The sound. There was a point when one of the gangster guys finally comes home and has a silent moment, where he’s feeling this anxiety and fear about what is to come next for him. We see him in a typical end-of-day ritual. Plops down on the bed, takes off his tie, throws it on the bed, takes of his shoes. But in atypical movie fashion, we hear every single movement. The tie hits the bed just as loud as a punch going from fist to face in the previous scene. And sound is amplified throughout the whole film — footsteps, gunshots, punches, breathing, etc.
3. The shots. There is some fine cinematography going on in this film. In the final scene of Outrage, we see three underlings with The Chairman, where they engage in a 2 minute conversation. Instead of cutting back and forth between wide shots, close ups, and medium shots, it’s just one long, fixed wide shot. This also follows through the film. Sometimes a shot remains fixed on one or two people, while dialog from off screen is spoken. We know who it is, we know what they’re saying; it’s not a mistake, but the filmmaker is allowing the viewer to fill in the gaps.
4. Women and people of color. Since I am a woman, and a person of color, I can’t help but notice the way that both are portrayed in this film. First of all, while women are in pivotal plot points in this movie, they’re only used as sexual currency. Literally, that’s it. Not even a cashier at a store, or an assistant to a mob boss or something. Not even a salty, know-it-all wife. Only prostitutes, or pawns used to coerce a diplomat (more on him in in a minute) to work for one of the mob families. In fact, I believe she was the only woman with dialogue in this film, and it was basically “I’m going to shower so I can then bang you.” Fantastic. The diplomat was some guy in Japan representing some random, made-up country in Africa. One of the yakuza families realized that local police won’t touch a diplomat’s office to enforce laws, so they force him run a casino out of his office. The little nuanced things he does is basically representatives of the attitudes I’ve heard (from actual people who have lived in Japan) that Japanese people have when it comes to Africans. His expressions and cowardly nature was kind of distracting and weird for me. Kind of like when you watch an old movie, and Mammy The Maid has to come out, say something sassy, her eyes buldge out, and she goes back into the kitchen. And when one of the gangster people made a joke about how dark this guy’s skin was, and the WHOLE EFFING theater laughed, I was just kind of pissed about it. I’m not going to lie. But I know that this film was made in Japan, and not the U.S., where that kind of joke would probably not fly. We’re more about nuanced racism in the good old U.S. of A.!
One of the more ridiculous things about this movie was when the credits started rolling, and having to hear the reactions of my fellow movie-goers. I don’t know what the hell they expected. It’s a gangster movie. Someone behind us said, “Well that was the most awkward movie I’ve ever seen.” Um…what? I don’t even know what kind of assessment that is. The general consensus was “Wowwie gee, what a violent movie!!” Maybe they’re not used to seeing violence in film. Perhaps they weren’t told that foreign movies can be violent, too. Also, as I mentioned, the violence was so over-the-top at points that it couldn’t possibly have been taken seriously. So quit your whining!
I suggest seeing this movie, with the knowledge that it is amazingly violent; and believe me, the escalation in violence should not be confused for the escalation of depth, character development, or story arch. This is basically bloody and violent, and ridiculous, and pretty damn fun.