"Just a Formality": Yakuza Sovereignty and Abject Exclusion in Kitano Takeshi's Outrage and Beyond Outrage.

Author:Kim, Se Young
Position:Global East Asian Cinema: Abjection and Agency - Critical essay


At the conclusion of Kitano Takeshi's (1) 2012 film Beyond Outrage. renegade gangster Otomo (Beat Takeshi) shoots and kills his high school kouhai, Kataoka (Kohinata Fumiyo). A corrupt police detective. Kataoka had been manipulating both Otomo and other yakuza in a bid to contain their growing influence. A sequel to Kitano's 2010 film Outrage, Beyond Outrage concludes the narrative arc of the earlier film which centered around the Sanno-kai crime syndicate. As Adam Bingham points out, Outrage lacks a protagonist in the conventional sense (Bingham 2015, 56-57), but Otomo and his gang function as an anchor to the narrative. A group of hapless servants, the drama of Outrage stems from the Otomo family being exploited then ultimately betrayed by their sworn kyodai ("brothers") and oyabun ("boss"). "We always get the dirty work." Otomo remarks at one point. Having used his family to get rid of a rival gang, the Sanno-kai leadership banishes Otomo before systematically killing his men, one-by-one. In Beyond Outrage, Otomo returns with a vengeance, bringing order both to the Sanno-kai and the underworld of Tokyo.

In their broad narrative arc. Outrage and Beyond Outrage are somewhat comparable to most yakuza films produced in Japan. On initial glance, what sets the films apart from the majority of yakuza cinema is the fact that they were written, edited, and directed by Kitano Takeshi. While known domestically since the 1970s for his work across media and genres. Kitano rose to international prominence in the 1990s through the film festival market. As with the majority of his work. Kitano also stars in the Outrage films, billed under his acting pseudonym Beat Takeshi. Formally, the film maintains all of the characteristics associated with Kitano's work, including the slow and deliberate pacing and cinematography, accented by sudden bursts of extreme violence. Sean Redmond notes that Outrage experiments with sound, both through dialogue and the soundtrack (Redmond 2013, 107-108), but for the most part, the films do not diverge drastically in style. At the same time, there is a critical shift in the Outrage films that warrants closer investigation. While his past yakuza films tended to meditate on the genre itself. Outrage and Beyond Outrage, especially in terms of narrative arc, are much more conventional as serviceable genre exercises by an established practitioner. One could of course convincingly argue that the aging director is reaching the tail-end of his career (and indeed Redmond notes that these are concerns are in the film) (Redmond 2013, 106) and that Outrage and Beyond Outrage pales in comparison to earlier films such as his celebrated Hana-bi (Fireworks) (1998). And yet, in the fact that Outrage and Beyond Outrage maintain Kitano's signature formal style but pair it with what is for him. a regressive and fairly typical narrative, point to a disconnect, an incongruity that raises some questions. Why did Kitano Takeshi decide to make a yakuza film after ten years away from the genre that helped establish him? Why exactly did he decide to produce his first sequel? And why exactly does the series devolve into standard genre fare?

In this article, I will perform a close reading of Outrage and Beyond Outrage, paying special attention to the character of Otomo and his relationship to the space of the yakuza. The conflict at the heart of the films seems to bifurcate the cast of characters into opposite factions: those who are loyal to Otomo and those who would exploit him. Not only does this erect the moral scaffolding of Outrage, with the just Otomo on one side and the repugnant yakuza on the other, it also determines the gangsters' relationship to yakuza tradition. Gangsters frequently denigrate the "old guard" and their absurd, antiquated rituals. Those remarks are often targeted at Otomo and his men--in doing so, the films also take a side. If Otomo and his gang are the avowed protagonists of Outrage, then it follows tautologically that it is their observance of yakuza law that makes them so. The rituals and customs that today's yakuza routinely dismiss as meaningless "formalities," are exactly what constituted the foundation of the criminal world for Otomo, maintaining order and keeping everyone in line. It was that which also helped maintain the boundary between criminal and civilian, which was precisely why the yakuza were able to otherwise coexist with the police.

The second binary that Outrage produces in relation to yakuza tradition is generational. For the new generation of twenty-first-century gangsters, exemplified by the young Ishihara (Kase Ryo) and the treacherous Kato (Miura Tomokazu), those borders are meant to be crossed. Under their aspirations the yakuza expand domestically (into rival territory as well as Japanese parliament) and internationally, into embassies and the stock market. Such ambition requires nothing less than restructuring, a new corporate mandate centered no longer around Confucian fielty and patriarchal seniority, but rather a cutthroat ethos where employees step on the backs of their colleagues and superiors in order to rise the ladder. On initial glance, it is here, against Ishihara and Kato that the titular emotion of the films is generated, for not only Otomo but also for Kitano Takeshi. After all, the pair are situated as the films' most repugnant antagonists.

A key filmmaker in contemporary East Asian cinema characterized by its use of extreme violence. (2) Kitano has long been an agent provocateur. But the shift in Outrage and Beyond Outrage is that Kitano--as filmmaker and star--comes face to face with his own creation, the twenty-first-century yakuza, and decides him to be so abhorrent that he must utilize his full capacity as filmmaker to intervene. At the same time, what must be remembered is the fact that Kato and Ishihara are not the originators of such an objectionable organization. Instead, they are merely inheritors of a structure that preceded them. Indeed, the true source of ire in Outrage is Sekiuchi (Kitamura Soichiro), the father to countless yakuza children, who manipulates his men's lives at whim. It is in the oyabun's absolute authority--a thanatic power that determines who will receive lawful favor and who will be banished--that outrage, as abjection, is produced. Outrage is ultimately concerned with the exercise of Sekiuchi's sovereign power, which results in Otomo's death. But far from a critique of yakuza biopolitics, the series continues with Otomo's return from the grave in Beyond Outrage, turning his agency not unto the yakuza structure itself, but rather those he determines to be its cancerous members. In the end, this is the critical shift in the films of Kitano Takeshi, a divergence from deconstructive critique to a conservative recovery of yakuza sentiment.

Yakuza Sign Systems and Yakuza Sovereignty

The Outrage films revolve around the Sanno-kai crime syndicate based in the Kanto region, headed initially by the treacherous chairman Sekiuchi who is eventually usurped by his lieutenant Kato. Among the number of subordinate gangs under Sanno-kai jurisdiction (the yakuza maintain a pyramid-like structure; is the Ikemoto family, who come under scrutiny for their dealing in drugs, and for Ikemoto's blood brother relationship to Murase (Ishibashi Renji). a leader of a rival organization. Following Sekiuchi's desires, the Sanno-kai engage the Murase family. However, the rules of engagement are entirely different in Outrage. While conflict is clear in films such as The Godfather (1972) (Francis Ford Coppola), oriented around a state of emergency where mafiosos "go to the mattresses," the Sanno-kai chain of command feign ignorance when Murase inquires about a violent incident on his territory. Instead of systemic gangland hits where rival organizations trade casualties, the Sanno-kai use an equally calculated but far more unsavory strategy, having the Otomo family strike the Murase-gumi under Ikemoto's orders. Both Sekiuchi and Ikemoto exploit Murase, taking first monetary offerings before ultimately taking his territory and forcing him to retire, while promising to broker peace by getting a handle on the "rogue" Otomo. Otomo ultimately kills the retired Murase, which caps off a series of actions that bucks yakuza Law, the irony being that of course Otomo was the only one observing the rules in the first place. But because Otomo was "officially" acting alone (and also because he kills his immediate superior Ikemoto once he realizes he has been deceived), the Sanno-kai leadership are able to abandon him and tie up their own loose ends. Otomo is banished while his men are killed one by one. In turn, Otomo turns himself in to the police, only to be stabbed in prison by Murase's former lieutenant Kimura (Nakano Hideo), whom Otomo had brutally attacked to initiate hostilities.

By the end of Outrage, the Sanno-kai have positioned themselves as the unrivaled criminal force in Tokyo at the small cost of one of their many subordinate gangs [with Ikemoto, his lieutenant Ozawa (Sugimoto Tetta), and everyone in the Otomo family save for Otomo himself and Ishihara, dead]. Ironically, Sekiuchi's treachery catches up with him, and so the film ends with Kato becoming chairman and Ishihara his new lieutenant. Beyond Outrage picks up here, beginning with news reportage of a slain police detective to immediately establish how brazen and powerful the Sanno-kai have become. Concomitantly, the police presence in the second film expands (Kataoka and his barely visible partner were virtually the only police in Outrage), for the Sanno-kai have become a problem that can no longer be ignored. Taking initiative, Kataoka arranges an early release for Otomo and pairs him with Kimura. While Otomo had killed Kimura's boss and Kimura had stabbed Otomo. the two are both old-fashioned yakuza in that that particular transaction has been concluded. By the time...

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