There’s a sound Japanese men make that Westerners typically only experience in the movies, a guttural, testosterone-charged bellow meant to chastise, intimidate and terrorize. It’s the pitch the camp guard uses on Allied prisoners of war, the one we hear when samurai trash talk each other before drawing swords or when yakuza — the Japanese mafia — are threatening beatings, finger-whackings or worse.
And it’s served up with feeling in “Beyond Outrage,” a convoluted, complex and very entertaining gangster picture from writer/director/actor Takeshi “Beat” Kitano. It’s a sequel to his earlier film, “Outrage,” but a genre sequel so solidly built that you don’t need to have seen the first film to get into this one.
A cop has been killed, and in a blast of exposition packed in the opening minutes, we hear of mob links to government corruption, old mob feuds that remain unsettled and a powerful Sanno family that runs the show.
Heaven help the land of the Rising Sun, because the only cops assigned to this murder are the always-a-day-late Shigeta (Yutaka Matsushige) and his corrupt partner, Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata). The cozy-with-the-crooks Kataoka pleads “Can’t we cooperate, like old times?” to the Shanno boss, Kato (Tomokazu Miura). But the boss and his hothead lieutenants dismiss him.
Yamamoto, the dead detective, “got too inquisitive” is all they’ll say.
What follows is a fascinating game of “Let’s you and him fight” where Kataoka tries to set up rivals to take down the Sannos, finagling this mob underling or that one to seek an alliance with the Hanabishi clan against the Sannos. Mobsters plot and die, others shake in their boots for fear of discovery.
Kitano, probably best known in the U.S. for his take on the legendary blind swordsman Zatoichi a decade ago, slowly weaves a web of dread into the story as we wonder just how deep the corruption reaches, whom to trust and whom to root for. And then we meet Kitano’s character, Otomo, an aged mobster doing time in prison, his death faked by the authorities. Kataoka charms and strong-arms the bullish Otomo into seeking revenge on the mobsters who put him inside and arranges his early release.
Kitano gave himself the chewiest character, which throws the film out of balance. With all the treachery, betrayals, mob hits and executions, all the palace intrigue within the various yakuza gangs, the cops get lost in the background. And only Otomo, and his equally-scarred brother yakuza, Nimura (Hideo Nakano) seem capable of anything noble in this world of ritual, hierarchy and backstabbing.
The violence — when it comes — is sudden and shocking, with much bellowing and posturing before guns are drawn and blood is spilled. Kitano stages some pretty gruesome, incredibly effective torture scenes and the cast of this men-in-a-man’s-world thriller wear their murderous machismo with style.
Sure, it’s just a subtitled genre picture and one with plenty of slow stretches in between blasts of tension and action. But “Beyond Outrage” reaches above and beyond most Hollywood underworld movies to deliver a tale of righteous revenge doled out only after showing us how much it is deserved.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language and brief sexual images
Cast: Fumiyo Kohinata Fumiyo Kohinata Takeshi Kitano, Yutaka Matsushige, Tomokazu Miura, Hideo Nakano
Credits: Written and directed by Takeshi Kitano. A Magnet release.
Running time: 1:52