Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage was an act of cinematic catharsis, exemplifying the usual yakuza-movie conventions while offering a subversive fixation on their grim consequences. Constructed around an escalating series of offenses against honor, it imagined vengeance as a steady, inexorable inferno, meaning a film that was almost entirely death-focused process, resulting in the summary destruction of practically all its characters. This havoc served as an internal outlet, for characters so bound up in codes of conduct that freewheeling violence became their only form of expression, and an external one, a chance for a director to completely deconstruct a genre whose conventions he’d long been toying with.
So it’s more than a bit surprising to find a sequel to what appeared to be a concluding blowout bash, a definitive exclamation point for a director who’d spent the last decade moving into new territory. Kitano abandons that evolution here by settling for more of the same; poking through the rubble left by the events of the first film, Beyond Outrage predictably struggles to find its footing. As it picks up some time later, gangland power has been concentrated in the hands of the Sanno and Hanabishi families, who’ve both benefitted handsomely from the preceding chaos. The ensuing narrative plays off two intertwined storylines: the machinations of career-minded Detective Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata), intent on furtively pitting the two sides against each other, and the return of Otomo (Kitano) who seemed to have fallen victim to a fatal jailyard stabbing at the end of Outrage. Otomo just wants to go straight—a nice thought that of course proves unfeasible—and one of the movie’s funniest concepts is how quickly the character drops his air of tired repentance once that idea is squashed, slipping back into his old ruthlessness with gusto.
The other major tension here occurs within the yakuza establishment itself. The outfit has modernized, with upstart Kato (Tomokazu Miura) exploiting the unrest to push things toward a more corporate model, one founded on founded on concrete profits rather than vaporous notions of reputation and respect. There’s humor here, as ancient codes clash with passive-aggressive business jargon, but it’s of a grim, smirking variety, both sides using supposed allegiance to their preferred ideology as a weak excuse to jockey for position. Yet despite some cursory plot modifications, Beyond Outrage is mostly identical to its predecessor, with a seemingly simple incident again setting off an unstoppable chain of events, the human dominos falling as one unstable criminal after another is dishonored, forced to pursue revenge for that slight, then offed by another vengeance-seeker. It’s dreary stuff, especially since the idea of a bloody gangster farce as a metaphor for the disreputable conduct of legitimate corporations was established with much more subtlety in the first film, and has been done with far greater elegance in Johnnie To’s recent spate of standout gangster sagas.
Kitano isn’t as precise or thoughtful of a director as To, nor is he as skilled of a choreographer, which means that the paired repetition of screaming matches and shootings grows increasingly tedious as the film progresses. This seemed by design in the first outing, but the identical construction here makes for a serious sense of redundancy, as does the repeated conceit of shooting in flat blues and grays in the negotiation and plotting scenes, then opening up the palette when the blood starts flowing. There are a few bits of creative business, primarily a hit involving an automatic pitching machine, which sums up everything the film has to say in a neat five-minute sequence. But even these feel like retreads of previous set pieces. If Kitano does go forward with the rumored third volume, a likely possibility considering Beyond Outrage’s substantial international success, hopefully he’ll conceive of some fresh angle on this increasingly dry material.