"Just a Formality": Yakuza Sovereignty and Abject Exclusion in Kitano Takeshi's Outrage and Beyond Outrage.
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 of Beyond Outrage, both men share a grudge against the Sanno-kai (and Kimura also defers to Otomo due to the older man's seniority). Kataoka then arranges for the newly-formed gang to ally with the Hanabishi-kai syndicate, rivals to the Sanno-kai located in Osaka. Although Otomo desires to take the offer of a powerful benefactor and retire, he is compelled to have his revenge, and kills Ishihara and orchestrates Kato's fall from power. And yet, Otomo and Kimura remain pawns in the larger game between the Sanno, Hanabishi, and the police, and so Otomo again becomes a marked man while Kimura is killed. At the conclusion of Beyond Outrage, mentioned at the opening of this paper, Otomo makes an appearance at Kimura's funeral, knowing fully well that it is a trap. While Kataoka assumes that Otomo will open tire at the attending yakuza. he instead shoots the detective. The film then cuts to black.
On the surface, Otomo's motivation is quite straightforward: he and the men in his care have been wronged and he desires reparations. At the same time. the ending of Beyond Outrage where Otomo abruptly kills Kataoka before the equally sudden final cut, gestures to something more. Otomo's killing of Kataoka is not necessarily a strike against law enforcement (after all. Otomo makes no other such overtures to any other police), nor can it be attributed to Otomo's past history with the detective; the two's complicated relationship frequently invokes their days as high school boxers (a reference to Kitano's 1996 film Kids Return) shuttling back and forth between chummy jokes and hard punches. That Kataoka himself supplies Otomo with a handgun to use at Kimura's funeral after he himself frisks the older gangster, points to the fact that his own death was the last thing on his mind. All of this is to say that in his shooting of Kataoka. we can see that Otomo is not necessarily acting as a gangster against an enemy, or as a person with a grudge against an old acquaintance. While Otomo's
final act of violence may carry those meanings, it is clearly a symbolic act.
Kataoka, like the other wretched figures of Outrage and Beyond Outrage, Sekiuchi, Kato. and Ishihara. are part and parcel of a world where the signifying system of the yakuza cannot be trusted for it merely reinforces the authority of those already in power. In the case of the Sanno- kai. the fundamental grievance regards the organization's structure: instead of the amount of responsibility increasing with each higher rank (from Otomo to Ozawa to Ikemoto to Kato to Sekiuchi), the higher the kanbu (officer), the less accountability. But despite this, the absolute power of the patriarch remains. In the case of Outrage, this is Sekiuchi, with nearly everyone in the film moving according to his whims. For the yakuza the pact--often made over shared sake--is sacred, and Sekiuchi frivolously makes promises of such to nearly all of his subordinates, whether it be Ikemoto, Ozawa. or Otomo. or even Murase. a leader of a rival organization. The pact serves as sufficient motivation for all of the parties involved, for it is the promise of instant immunity through sponsorship--extended from the oyabun to the signee. These of course are empty promises that the chairman never intends to or actually does follow through on. Sekiuchi thus occupies a particular space. As the head of the most powerful yakuza syndicate he maintains a singular amount of authority. The yakuza do his bidding purely on the basis of promise, operating under the assumption that Sekiuchi will indeed extend favor. Sekiuchi's power then is not based on an objective, meritorious framework where he is served and he in turn rewards such service. Instead, it stems from his ability to make an exception: while Otomo and his gang observe yakuza law that hinges on honor and trust, Sekiuchi is not bound to such tenets--he benefits from it but does not need to observe it himself. And by allowing Sekiuchi to operate outside of yakuza principles, the Sanno-kai in turn legitimate his absolute authority.
Sekiuchi thus operates in terms of Giorgio Agamben's theorization of sovereignty, elaborating on Carl Schmitt's assertion that, "Sovereign is he who decides on the state of exception" (as cited in Agamben 1998, 13). By excluding himself from yakuza order, Sekiuchi is able to determine when its laws are in effect and when they become suspended. For Agamben, who argues that the state of exception is the paradigmatic model for the modern polis, the political order has its own suspension built into its own fabric. In the same way that a constitution includes the exceptional cases in which it can be bracketed, the Sanno-kai is not "corrupt" per se as Otomo would argue. Instead, Sekiuchi's false promises are part and parcel of the syndicate's decidedly normal operations. Furthermore, as Sekiuchi promises then denies clemency to Otomo and others (who were compromised because of his machinations to begin with) the chairman also constantly positions his men in liminal spaces, both outcast from the syndicate but subject to yakuza sanctions. Sekiuchi truly becomes Agamben's sovereign then, in producing Otomo as homo sacer, the sacred man who "may be killed and yet not sacrificed" (Agamben 1998, 12) simultaneously accounted for in the polis but stripped of his "capacity for political existence" (Agamben 1998, 10). Otomo's abjection ultimately stems from his biopolitical status (Foucault 1990, 140). On the other hand, despite seeing this process happen again and again, the gangsters of Outrage fetishistically disavow, assuming that the chairman will exercise his sovereign power to make an exception for them and them only.
Sekiuchi's direct subordinate, the underboss Kato. is the only one to understand this dynamic, perhaps because he is the one issuing the actual orders, "translating" the chairman's rhetoric into clear and concise directions. Knowing fully well that Sekiuchi has no intention of spreading the wealth, Kato outmaneuvers the elder yakuza, killing him and setting up a fall guy, just as they had done to Otomo. Kato thus ascends to the position of sovereignty in taking the power to choose the exception. That Sekiuchi's power has been somewhat transferred to Kato is evident in Beyond Outrage, as he too is able to influence his disgruntled subordinates into betraying one another. In addition to Kato, Kataoka also emerges as a successor to Sekiuchi in the second film. The wily Kataoka capitalizes on the internal strife within the yakuza, pitting them against one another. In doing so, the yakuza are effectively contained, Kataoka is able to claim credit within the police force, while also demonstrating his value to the Sanno-kai. Depending on how and when it suits him, Kataoka pledges allegiance to his superiors, Kato and Ishihara, the Hanabishi, Kimura, and most fatally, Otomo. For Kataoka, this is not a conflict of interests, so much as his sovereign ability to select which contingent he is able to align himself with and at whichever moment.
It is a fatal mistake on Kataoka's part to claim loyalty to Otomo because he fails to realize that Otomo and his men are cut from a different cloth. In the majority of Kitano's films, gangsters are somewhat inscrutable figures (heightened by Beat Takeshi's unaffected performances), seemingly indifferent to the violence that surrounds them and that they themselves participate in. To this, while many of the yakuza have been partially sympathetic figures, the films have never shied away from their horrible actions; while they may enjoy quiet moments on the beach, these were the same men that unflinchingly committed unspeakable acts of violence. As Kitano's international profile hinged on his genre cinema, his yakuza films maintained a sense of ambivalence, with the gangsters consistently being critiqued if not outright ridiculed. A prime example is the custom of cutting one's own pinky as penance, an act which devolves into farce in both Boiling Point (1990) (3-4 x jugatsu) (through one gangster's comedic refusal to do so) and Outrage (when Kimura is unable to do so with a box cutter). Placed in the genealogy of Fukasaku Kinji's seminal Battles without Honor and Humanity (Jingi naki tatakai) (1973-1974) series and in dialogue with his contemporary Miike Takashi, who challenged the yakuza subgenre to even greater lengths, Kitano's yakuza are a far cry from the romanticism of dominant crime cinema. The Outrage films too offer an unflattering perspective on the yakuza. but the major caveat is that the critique is partial for it does not include Otomo. Kimura. and the other members of the Otomo family. What's more, it is not only that the Otomo family maintain some form of moral code, it is that the Outrage films suggest that that code is inherently linked to yakuza tradition. In the 2010s then, yakuza culture is no longer a subject of critique. Subsequently, Outrage and Beyond Outrage seem to suggest that it is yakuza rituals, if properly observed, that can generate some sort of social honesty and/or balance; it is not that the yakuza themselves are a menace, but rather the corrupt yakuza that are the problem.
This also partially explains Otomo's character arc in Outrage. Otomo's exasperation of "always getting the dirty work" points to a partial understanding of how his family can never benefit from the current yakuza. And yet, Otomo continues to carry out that dirty work. To the film's credit, this could be seen as a pointed instance of fetishistic disavowal, or a moment that demonstrates the hegemony by consent, where Otomo follows Ikemoto's bidding despite the fact that he knows he will be betrayed. However, his genuine surprise when he discovers that Ikemoto was lying to him. his vengeful murder of Ikemoto. as well as his last bid attempt to parlay with Sekiuchi after being banned for the murder of Murase all point to both Otomo's naivety and belief in the chain of command. That faith leads to the demise of the Otomo family, and it is here, in the revelation of the absolute lack of truth in Sanno-kai politics that the film's titular emotion emerges. The second film affirms this, suggesting a limit point that has been crossed and then detailing the aftermath: Otomo's righteous vengeance. Outrage suggests that prior to the film's events, Otomo was a sovereign actant on behalf of the Sanno-kai. But upon exposure to his biopolitical relation to power, Otomo transitions into an abject agent of vengeance.
Outrage, Biopolitics, and Abjection
In Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva theorizes abjection as a dialectical process that occurs in the confrontation between Self and the absolute alterity of the Other. In turn, that confrontation troubles normative Cartesian relationships. Something occurs in this meeting that causes the Self to shuttle from desire to horror, a realization emanating from the fact that the Other stands in opposition to oneself and cannot be properly incorporated. This process for Kristeva, is inherently violent (Kristeva 1982). Japanese cinema has long dealt in the abject, going beyond the normalized relationships of commercial narrative cinema to incite the spectator in defamiliarized ways. Major instances of abject Japanese cinema include the Japanese New Wave, the pink eiga and chanbara of the 1970s, or more contemporary genres such as J-Horror and of course, yakuza cinema. Kitano Takeshi too belongs to this genealogy. In one of the most harrowing sequences of Outrage, Otomo and his underboss Mizuno (Shiina Kippei) ambush Murase at the dentist and proceed to mangle his open mouth with a drill. In another, Mizuno jams a chopstick into a man's ear, invoking a scene from Hana-bi where Nishi (Beat Takeshi) stabs a man in the eye with the eating utensil. Both scenes speak to the ruthless brutality of Kitano's work as well as the longer tradition of discomforting Japanese cinema. But I am less interested here in the abjection that the violence produces in the spectator: read in those terms, Outrage and Beyond Outrage become less exceptional. Instead, what is compelling about the films is that there is abjection within the films themselves, a repulsion that is directed inward at the films' own characters.
What Outrage and Beyond Outrage ultimately do then is draw out a potential relationship between abjection and biopower. Reading Outrage and Beyond Outrage in relation to Kitano Takeshi's broader oeuvre underlines a shift that occurs in these films that stems from their abjection. On the surface level, Otomo's self-actualization in Beyond Outrage is an act of resistance to the corrupt Sanno-kai and police. But to go further, the true source of Otomo's anger is in his unfolding comprehension regarding yakuza politics. For Otomo and Kimura, word is indeed bond, and one that has direct connection to what is more often than not. brutal consequences. For the others, language does have the same sort of binding power in that the conversations between the characters, whether they be in boardrooms, offices, or interrogation rooms maintain the social order. At the same time, those symbolic bonds are what allow for their own suspension (Agamben 2005) with Sekiuchi and Kato lulling their subordinates into a false sense of security with false promises, making them vulnerable for continued exploitation. The entire symbolic order of Outrage has little to no bearing on the social conditions.
And yet, that the symbolic order retains power in the Outrage films by maintaining the social organization suggests two things. For one, it points to the performative quality of discourse, both in Judith Butler's ideas regarding gender performativity but also in relation to Michel Foucault's theorization of knowledge-power. In the same way that Butler argues that there is no ontology to be found in either sex or gender (Butler 1990), Otomo is dismayed to discover that the yakuza are not grounded by ahistorical metaphysics. This is also to say that while Otomo may believe that he and his like-minded men are anchored by a stable, coherent, unified gangster identity, they are only yakuza inasmuch as they perform as yakuza, through their clothing, mannerisms, and language. While there is no truth to the yakuza, this is not to suggest that there is no social reality. And this is precisely what Foucault explicates in his genealogy of the modern understanding of the criminal. The criminal (and the yakuza) is not an ontological category, or a species that simply exists, to be discovered and recorded--rather, it is in that discourse itself, be it legal, medical, academic, or cultural, that produces the very figure of the criminal as an object of study, an act of description and prescription operating under the guise of the former (Foucault. 1995).
Second, the symbolic order of Outrage suggests the possibility that honesty is in fact unnecessary to a social organization. In its stead is an entirely dishonest discourse that binds the polis, allowing for a mass fetishistic disavowal. In fact, we can observe such a form of cynical ideology (Zizek 1989) in Outrage, precisely through the invocation of the formality. When any subordinate is put into an unfavorable position, be it Murase's retirement or Otomo's banishment. Sekiuchi is quick to assure the affected party that the measure is a mere "formality," there only to keep appearances. In doing so, the chairman not only acknowledges that the organization's rituals and rules are purely performative, he also admits that there is a gap between the symbolic order and the lived reality. In addition, the yakuza chairman superficially problematizes the power of language, the very same that sustains his sovereignty. The invocation of the formality is thus a formality in and of itself, a necessary procedure in the byzantine maintenance of the social relations and a toothless critique. Sekiuchi proclaims that Otomo's banishment is merely ritual, when in fact it is a genuine act of political exclusion. The rest of the Sanno-kai fetishistically believe their chairman, operating as if they did not know that Otomo has been effectively sentenced to death. The cynical ideology of the Sanno-kai subordinates (who convince themselves that they will not end up like Otomo) is what valorizes Sekiuchi's language. As such his facile self-implication reveals the statement of the mere ritual as empty of content, a purely performative gesture that legitimizes both his sovereignty and his subjects' disavowal. In turn, the supposed self-critique of the ritual banishment in turn sustains the very real banishment, an act of simultaneous inclusion and exclusion, which ultimately articulates Sekiuchi's absolute sovereignty. Not only does exclusion legitimize sovereignty, it also operates as a principle act that affirms the presence of abjection. That which cannot be properly incorporated is ejected, and "yet, from its place of banishment, the abject does not cease challenging its master" (Kristeva 1982, 2).
This dynamic is at the heart of the films' scandal. But there is yet more to the ire of Outrage and Beyond Outrage. In the case of Sekiuchi, his manipulation of the Sanno-kai yakuza almost seems without reason, as if they are the idle machinations of an aging despot. In reality of course, it is precisely those maneuverings that constitute, sustain, and reify his power. His is a "mythic violence," a "mere manifestation of the gods," "not a means to their ends, scarcely a manifestation of their will, but primarily a manifestation of their existence" (Benjamin 2004, 248). But on the level of character motivation, the only reason provided is that Sekiuchi disagrees with the decisions of his subordinates. What we must consider though is the fact that even though he is one of the most reprehensible characters in the films, he is not positioned as such. Even though Otomo acts out primarily because of Sekiuchi, his ire is not directed at the oyabun. And this is the limitation of the Outrage films.
If abjection occurs in the encounter with that which cannot be properly incorporated, it is a reorientation of Self and Other where that which is abject is expelled or banished. But inasmuch as the abject is not object, united only in their opposition to the sovereign "I" (Kristeva 1982, 2), it is also the sacred man. In both the state of exception and in abjection, we find a dialectic of exclusion, borders, and subjectivity, where the sovereign subject simultaneously includes and excludes those who are bound to his authority. As Sekiuchi's sovereign selfhood requires differentiation by way of exclusion, he incessantly reproduces his subordinates into abject sacred men. Finding himself in the same position, Otomo is able to transform his abject subjectivity into a form of agency that threatens to reveal the grounds on which the yakuza world stands. But by refusing a ruthless, thorough critique of biopolitical yakuza sovereignty, and by suggesting that it is a system that has been corrupted but can be repaired. Otomo and Kitano displace the true source of abjection. In doing so. both Sekiuchi and his form of rule is ultimately exonerated.
The Twenty-First-Century Gangster
In Sekiuchi's stead, the anger of Outrage is displaced onto Kato, Ishihara. and Kataoka. Those three characters, who are all punished by the end of Beyond Outrage share one thing in common: their dedication to personal gain. David Desser notes that the tension between girt (obligation and responsibility) and jingi (the code of honor) in opposition to ninjo (personal inclination) is a fundamental pillar of yakuza cinema (as cited in Redmond 2013, 107). The Outrage films thus separate themselves from this history in assigning a historical particularity to Kato and Ishihara (and by extension, the cop/criminal Kataoka)--after all, these are twenty-first- century gangsters. What separates Kato and Ishihara is their pathological preoccupation with personal gain as well as the ways in which they pursue that goal. Neither Kato and Ishihara are interested in skimming from the organization, whether it be embezzling some funds or skimping on their tributes to their superiors. They are categorically separate from the small-minded thinking of Ikemoto, who seems to be only interested in continuing to sell drugs on his territory under the chairman's nose. Kato and Ishihara desire the entire operation, a desire they are able to see through by the beginning of Beyond Outrage. That Ishihara. a low-level member of the Otomo family, itself one of the lowest-ranking gangs in the syndicate, is promoted to the chairman's top lieutenant points to two things: Kato's complete disregard for yakuza customs (which is precisely what rankles his lieutenants and plants the seeds for a justified mutiny) and also his forward-thinking mentality that values Ishihara's initiative. Under Ishihara's leadership, and without the Murase-gumi family to contend with, the Sanno-kai expands their operations into the stock market, hedge funding, and eventually. Japanese parliament.
Ishihara is the yakuza's benefactor, leading the Sanno-kai into a brave new world. And Outrage makes clear from the very beginning that Ishihara is an extraordinary gangster. Seen initially in a sequence set in the humble office of the Otomo family, Ishihara is framed to the rear left of the shot. Sitting alone at a desk, Ishihara is further isolated by the fact that there is simply no one else in the room that looks remotely like him. The youngest yakuza in both films (although Kimura employs a pair of hotheaded youths in Beyond). Ishihara is tall, slender, and attractive, very much a metrosexual gangster. On the other end of the spectrum is the stalwart Abe (Morinaga Kenji). an equally tall but burly gangster, whose shoulders are as square as his buzzcut. In between are a number of gangsters that fit the aesthetic established in both Kitano's earlier work, as well as those produced by Miike (Shiina Kippei for example, starred in Miike's 1995 film Shinjuku Triad Society). A bishonen ("beautiful young boy") to the family's stone- faced men, the educated Ishihara flaunts his global imagination with grand schemes and near-fluent English.
Even more than Kato or Kataoka, Otomo is placed in direct opposition to Ishihara. Save for the fact that both are yakuza, the two men share little else in common. And it is in establishing this almost ontological difference that Kitano walks back on the critique of his earlier films. While films such as Sonatine (1993) and Hana-bi tended to deconstruct the codes of the yakuza. Outrage and Beyond Outrage bolsters them. It is no longer the case that yakuza such as Otomo and his men are merely playing gangsters, but rather that they are gangsters, or at least constitute the authentic core of Japanese organized crime. That institution in turn, is threatened by the cutthroat attitudes of Kato and Ishihara, which is why the "real" yakuza must be mobilized. It is as if the cinematic production of the twenty-first-century gangster necessitated the return of the old guard, an old guard that had been for the most part, absent in the filmography of Kitano Takeshi. In turn then, Otomo's vengeance almost becomes a noble crusade in Beyond Outrage, a last-ditch effort for the preservation of life that was thoroughly critiqued in Boiling Point, Sonatine, and Hana-bi. Out of all of Kitano's (and Beat Takeshi's) yakuza, Otomo becomes anointed.
Agency, Narrative, and Violence
Bingham has an insightful reading of the opening of Outrage, where the camera pans across a sea of yakuza faces, low-level gangsters waiting outside of the Sanno-kai compound as their superiors attend a banquet. Only when the camera has passed three-fourths of the men does the spectator see the familiar face of Beat Takeshi. The shot does not linger on Otomo, treating him no differently from anyone else in that particular black-clad crowd. Bingham reads this sequence in relation to Otomo's narrative arc, contending that Outrage does not privilege the aging gangster (Bingham 2015, 57-58). This is true to a certain degree. It is indeed more accurate to say that Otomo is caught in the events of Outrage. While Otomo was all but helpless in Outrage, strung along by the machinations of the Sanno-kai and Kataoka, in the sequel he represents nothing less than an existential threat to Kato and Ishihara, bestowed with an almost mythical power. Tapped by Kataoka. Otomo suddenly emerges from prison as the most feared man in the Outrage universe. It is as if he is "a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable" (Kristeva 1982, 1). The threat that Otomo poses is confirmed by Ishihara's increasingly unhinged outbursts at his Sanno-kai subordinates to find and kill his former oyabun. This is partially out of legitimate fear of Otomo, but also Kato and Ishihara's dread that the symbolic order will fall apart for them as it did for Sekiuchi.
In Beyond Outrage, there thus is absolutely no question that Otomo is the film's protagonist. In becoming the anti-hero of a revenge plot, Otomo is arbiter of justice as it coincides with his vengeance--it just so happens that those who have transgressed him are also morally suspect. I thus read Otomo's unusually effective violence as a force that reinstates his own masculine capacity to affect change in response to the absolute powerlessness that he and his allies initially maintain. Through his righteous violence, Otomo is able to almost singlehandedly change the landscape of the filmic Tokyo. In a broad sense, Otomo aligns with the protagonist of classical Hollywood cinema (Bordwell et al 1985), especially in films oriented around conflict, where narrative agency equates to the ability to make the necessary actions that will bring resolution. But more particularly, in Beyond Outrage, agency is a liminal form of subjectivity that follows loss (Otomo's traumatic encounter with yakuza biopolitics), wherein new purpose is gained. Moreover, considering Otomo's symbolic death following his "merely ritual" banishment, and his ostensible real death at the conclusion of Outrage, agency is acquired through restorative vengeance. As Otomo returns from the grave in Beyond Outrage, an exceptional figure in the work of Kitano Takeshi, presents agency itself as abject--as opposed to the classical gangster who is wanted dead or alive, Otomo is both.
Otomo's singular violence is thus explained. To be clear, while exceptional, it is not that Otomo is without precedent. The aesthetics of violence in Outrage and Beyond Outrage and Otomo's single-minded viciousness recall Kitano's directorial debut. Violent Cop, or Sono otoko, kyobd ni tsuki, "Caution: This Man Is Violent." But because the narrative structure of the two films clearly bifurcate its subjects according to morality, Otomo's violence gains a degree of instrumentality it initially lacked, a remedial tool that can correct an ironically inhumane political organization. Otomo and his men may be horrible, violent men, but they also know their place, and that they must not disturb the civilian world (this is the implied significance of when yakuza such as Murase or Kato "retire," as they ostensibly leave the underworld). As opposed to Murakawa or Uehara, Otomo becomes a lesser of two evils and moreover, a necessary evil spawned by Kato and Ishihara's ambition. In the scale of evils, Otomo occupies the space of least transgressive, for his violence has been directed at those who ostensibly "deserved it." In succeeding in his vendetta, the connection between narrative agency as character-driven and violence, ultimately becomes validated.
As a response to the injustice of Outrage, Beyond Outrage moves past a limit point, both in its status as Kitano's first sequel, as well as its use of uncritical, pro-social violence. Read alone, Outrage does actually align to a certain degree with Kitano's earlier work. By the end of the film, Otomo has been betrayed and is perhaps dying after being stabbed by Kimura in prison, and while Sekiuchi is dead, he has been replaced by another foul gangster, Kato, with the treacherous Ishihara at his side. Similarly, the deceitful Kataoka has also been promoted. The vile have been rewarded while the just have been punished. And while the violence in both films formally aligns with its use in other Kitano Takeshi films, the fact that when read together, the violence does not generate problems on the narrative level but instead decisively concludes the narrative is a departure. Beyond Outrage thus becomes one of Kitano's most conservative films to date. To be clear, it is not that Outrage and Beyond Outrage are the only films where Kitano uncritically uses cinematic violence. His 2003 chanbara film Zatoichi may be his most conventional film, which also happened to be his most commercially-successful. As things would have it, Outrage was also a commercial success for the director. On the other end, another film that was far more mainstream than the majority of his films is the final yakuza film Kitano produced before Outrage, the 2000 film Brother. A US coproduction meant to be his initial foray into the American market, Brother sees Beat Takeshi play outcast gangster Yamamoto. Exiled to Los Angeles, Yamamoto creates a multiethnic crew with an African-American lieutenant named Denny (Omar Epps) that loosens the grip of the local gangs. Eventually coming to the attention of the mafia, Yamamoto is killed in a blaze of glory. Brother fulfilled the expectations of its international genre cinema audience (although it ultimately failed), providing the requisite yakuza iconography coupled with Kitano's version of "Asian cool."
The Outrage films do not celebrate yakuza imagery to the same degree, but they do ultimately maintain the ontology of the culture. By doing so, Outrage and Beyond Outrage are somewhere between the familiar motifs of Brother and the autocritique of Hana-bi and Sonatine. Instead of the absurdity and relegation of his earlier work, the violence of Beyond Outrage is a legitimate means to legitimate ends. This is not only a critical shift in the work of Kitano Takeshi, it is also in some senses, a political reversal. Beyond Outrage operates almost as an intervention, as if Otomo had to return to the Sanno-kai's Tokyo in order to right the previous film's wrong. It is as if the problem that the Sanno-kai--or more accurately, what was being displaced onto the Sanno-kai--was so great that it required nothing less than a much more forceful reaction.
I bring up Beyond Outrage's status as a sequel in relation to the extratextual dimension of the films. We have to, after all. keep in mind that Kitano is not only operating as Beat Takeshi in his performance as Otomo, but also as Kitano Takeshi, writer, editor, and director. What does it mean that on this metatextual level, the character of Otomo is all but impotent--not unlike Kitano's other yakuza--only to have absolute agency in Beyond Outrage. Otomo's sudden and almost arbitrary acquisition of power points to Kitano's sovereignty as the dominant voice of his work. In other words, this is less an issue of authorial intent so much as it is an issue of auteurist sovereignty. Even though Kitano became one of Japan's most representative filmmakers precisely through thoughtful critiques of violent masculinity, he has always maintained the power that he actualizes in Beyond Outrage throughout his productions (and perhaps in the landscape of Japanese arthouse cinema as well). As a result, the critique of violence and yakuza cinema become substantially problematized; Kitano's sovereignty as a director also allowed for a form of autocritique. of political analysis of violent masculine agency, precisely because that agency would always remain available to him. And Beyond Outrage is configured precisely as such a crisis moment, where the Sanno-kai--and perhaps Kitano's flagging international reputation--was enough to bring Otomo back from the dead.
In this essay, I have read Outrage and Beyond Outrage in the context of Kitano Takeshi's gangster cinema, focusing on the manner in which yakuza sovereignty is a system of liminal borders where its subjects are included and then displaced. In comparison to the dismal end of Outrage, Beyond Outrage becomes an intervention in cinematic Tokyo where the disenfranchised gangster Otomo becomes a mighty proctor of criminal justice. I have argued that this shift is initially generated by a repulsion by yakuza biopolitics, only to be displaced onto a new type of gangster--it is not that the yakuza world is repulsive in and of itself, it is that it has become progressively corrupted by a few key individuals, who must be eradicated by utilizing the entirety of Kitano Takeshi's power, as actor, editor, writer, and influential director. For the remainder of the paper, I would like to cautiously wade into more speculative territory, to further probe just what exactly the Outrage films found to be so beyond the pale. I believe that answers may be found by gesturing beyond the texts themselves, towards the historical context of their production and consumption.
In Kitano's 1998 film Hana-bi, a supporting character makes a small remark regarding her life following the death of her detective husband. The widow tells the visiting Nishi, "Because of the recession, good jobs are hard to come by. But I'm helping out at a deli..." The recession that the woman speaks of is the one of course initially referred to as "The Lost Decade," or the ten years that followed the 1991 collapse of Japan's bubble economy. An innocuous, seemingly unrelated remark in Hana-bi. it is also a comment that helps orient the seemingly-hopeless conditions and arbitrary suffering that the characters experience over the film's running time. At the beginning of Outrage, before hostilities have bloomed between the Sanno-kai and the Murase-gumi, a low-level thug attempts to convince a member of the Otomo family to visit his bar. The thug Iizuka (Tsukamoto Takashi) intends on scamming the Otomo gang member Okazaki (Sakata Tadashi), oblivious to the fact that he is a member of a rival clan. Okazaki in turn, is himself looking to swindle the conman, another elaborate instance of performances and deceit, as it is all part of a plan to entrap the Murase-gumi into a gang war. Iizuka attempts to attract Okazaki with the promise of attractive escorts, telling him, "Our nightclub gets high class girls due to the recession."
The recession that Iizuka mentions in 2010 is not the widow's recession of 1998. Well into the second "Lost Decade," both the cinematic and actual Japan has yet to fully recover, despite governmental reassurances otherwise. In another revealing scene in Hana-bi, the film's yakuza talk amongst themselves, waxing poetic on the difference between a businessman and a gangster (the former does not have a gun). Wondering how the film's protagonist, the rogue detective Nishi, was able to pay back the exorbitant amount of money he owed them, one of the low-level gangsters jokes that he may have robbed a bank (which is exactly what he did). He continues, joking that the gang's boss would also do the same if he were interested in increase operations. The boss retorts that if he were looking to expand, he would go into the stock market. What was merely daytime musings for the 1998 yakuza of Hana-bi has become a reality for the 2012 Sanno-kai, spearheaded by Ishihara, who unlike his peers, superiors, and subordinates, came of age precisely in the Lost Decades.
Ishihara is a millennial gangster injected with the neoliberal spirit--not only do his aspirations know no bounds, desiring for the syndicate to penetrate every single crevice possible. Motivated perhaps by the destitute conditions of precarious labor, caused precisely by neoliberal reform, which was supposed to end the Lost Decade instead of doubling down on it. Kitano Takeshi, as Otomo, watches this entire scene play out, and the Outrage films become filled with disgust and nostalgia. At one point in Outrage, a Ghanian ambassador, who speaks fluent Japanese, utters to himself in English, "No way. I won't do business with your kind." Much to his shock, Ishihara responds in equally fluent English, "Keep talking like that. And we'll fucking kill you." The Ghanian ambassador's remark was a blanket statement that had a broad notion of brutish thugs and criminals in mind. He did not expect Ishihara, yakuza who were educated, motivated, and ambitious. According to Outrage and Beyond Outrage, these are the real gangsters to be feared, not the ones holding a gun. In the context of the twenty-first- century, and compared to Ishihara, the yakuza of Sonatine and Hana-bi look quaint, even noble. Instead of pushing further in his critique of yakuza violence, examining that which the gangsters of both Hana-bi and Outrage share, Kitano instead turns away.
In 2017, Kitano Takeshi once again ventured into new territory by releasing a second sequel, the final film in the Outrage series, titled Outrage Coda. At the time of writing, Outrage Coda has not been released on home video in North America. Outside of Japan, it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Judging from reviews of the film and footage available on streaming sites such as YouTube however, suggests that Coda not only continues the course of Beyond, it also escalates it. In the film, Otomo takes up the offer for sanctuary made in Beyond by his powerful benefactor, the Korean "fixer" Jang Dae-seong (that the film features an ethnically Korean character is indicative of this new criminal globalization, for unlike Miike, Kitano's gangsters have traditionally been Japanese). But the elimination of the Sanno-kai has not rid Tokyo of corruption and manipulation, and Otomo continues his vendetta, this time directed at the Hanabishi, his one-time allies. Because Outrage Coda was not screened for this article, there remains the possibility that it will deviate from the trajectory established by the first two films. There remains the chance that the film will return to the sharp critique of Kitano's earlier work, and bring it to bear on what Outrage reveals, that patriarchal yakuza sovereignty comes at the expense of the abject Other, and what Beyond Outrage quickly displaces in its restorative masculine fantasy. We can hope that perhaps it is in that movement from film to film that necessitated not one but two sequels, and Outrage Coda will deconstruct not only its two preceding films, itself, and its filmmaker, revealing that the yakuza and with him, the filmmaker, is not and never was, wearing any clothes.
Benjamin. Walter. "Critique of Violence." Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 1, 1913-1926. Edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge: Belknap. 2004.
Bingham. Adam. Contemporary Japanese Cinema Since Hana-bi. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015.
Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1990.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Random House. 1995.
---. The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An Introduction. New York: Random House. 1990. Kristeva, Julia. The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
Redmond, Sean. The Cinema of Takeshi Kitano: Flowering Blood. London: Wallflower Press, 2013.
Zizek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso, 1989.
(1) Japanese names will be written with the family name first.
(2) See for example, Chi-Yun Shin. "Art of Branding: Tartan "Asia Extreme" Films." Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 50 (2008): 85-100.
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|Title Annotation:||Global East Asian Cinema: Abjection and Agency|
|Author:||Kim, Se Young|
|Publication:||Studies in the Humanities|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2019|
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