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Home page > In Focus > Takeshi Kitano, ’Outrage’ and the Yakuza: the Way of the Chopped (...) (20 May 2010)
In Focus

’Outrage’ and the Yakuza: the Way of the Chopped Finger Takeshi Kitano

Japan Interview 
Takeshi Kitano
Photo by Damien Rayuela

When it happens, meeting a myth is always too short, too mysterious and too unrealistic to catch what is inside the mind of the master. You are left with even more questions, because no secrets are revealed. It’s the moment that matters, the infinitely tiny moment when two universes collide: the one in front of the screen and the one behind.

Interviewing Takeshi Kitano, whose slight tics of the eye make him seem somewhat fragile, only gives you hints, not answers. Let’s follow some of the leads.

The fascination

As in other parts of the world, the entertainment industry has a deep association with gangster society.

Why are filmmakers so in love with the world of gangsters? Bad guys, outlaws, killers and robbers are over-exposed onscreen. Of course, we all have a fascination for the outsider and for what is radically different. Gangsters occupy a world controlled by their own rules, engaging in a brutal escape from society and using its weaknesses and fears to manipulate it. So filmmakers take advantage of this irresistible attraction to portray otherness and propose another way of looking at our world. With Outrage, in competition in Cannes, Kitano makes a powerful comeback to the Yakuza genre.

Insightful violence

I think it’s not so much about individual revenge but about maintaining integrity and saving the face of the family as a collective identity. It’s more about satisfying the collective ego.

A thorough illustration of this collective ego battle, Outrage is a vicious game of ping pong between several Yakuza families. A mistake is committed on one side (a member swindled by the other family) which provokes the rest of the domino fall. Kitano emphasizes this precise moment with an oblique shot and sudden burst of music - breaking completely with the style of the rest of the film - in which the mistaken Yakuza is dragged into a whorehouse. The absurdity and excessiveness of the Yakuza’s logic makes us think that every spiral of violence boils down to one primary moment. As if the order of these families, and to a certain extent the order of the world, was a fragile crystal.

Movements and actions

I came up with this idea of stepping back as an actor, stepping back from the front line and putting the others actors in front, so that it would be an assemble kind of movie rather than protagonist-driven. Structurally speaking, there’s a lot of talking in the first part and it shifts into more movements and actions in the latter part.”

Being a Yakuza is all about posture. With Beat Takeshi, his actor’s name, Kitano has created a distinctive figure: a low talker, calm and still but with sudden bursts of violence. This posture is the signature of his films and is contagious. In almost every scene, the characters are not moving, they are posing. It is well-known that Japanese society is bound to an emotional restraint. Here, the body becomes the expression and language is superfluous.


The laughing demon

I think comedy and humour have this demonic element in them. It is always prepared to raise its ugly head to seep into the situation. The more serious and sacred the situation is, the funnier it is when something goes wrong. For instance, when you’re at a funeral or a sacred event, such as a marriage, and somebody messes up, people laugh but for the person himself it’s a tragedy.”

Outrage is full of self-derision, and that’s what makes it so pleasant to watch. Kitano uses the code of the Yakuza genre movie to picture an absurd world. When they’re not chopping off their little fingers to make excuses, they compete imaginatively to find the meanest way to scare or kill a man, as if they were advertising their own cruelty. Even splashes of blood become joyful. For Kitano, violence is one of the many ways we express ourselves, but also a game of pure entertainment. In the end, playing with the frontier between comedy and tragedy is what Kitano masters the best. In a world in which dying is easy, killing a sport and torturing a game, laughter is disturbing. Because the inner structure of Outrage is a circle, violence keeps its cyclic proprieties. How can one laugh when there’s no end to its curse?

By Romain Pichon-Sintes

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