With 2010’s Outrage, Takeshi “Beat” Kitano returned to the gangster genre that first brought him big-screen success, depicting a modern yakuza underworld structured like a hierarchical corporation and populated by men who — dispensing with any Godfather-style codes of conduct — perpetually schemed to get to the top. It was a nasty, convoluted affair, shot with a methodical chilliness that reflected its characters’ efforts to backstab their way to power. For all their unprincipled killing, the movie’s biggest victim was the very idea of honor among today’s thieves.
The apparent death of Kitano’s protagonist Otomo, as well as the fact that the story made its point conclusively via an everyone-falls-down finale, suggests that Beyond Outrage was a redundant proposition from the outset. Still, it’s somewhat surprising to find the filmmaker’s sequel marked by such a lack of urgency. The action here seems dutiful, devoid of the indignation at criminal vileness that seethed below Outrage‘s surface.
Sure to be incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with its predecessor, Beyond Outrage picks up a few years after the prior film’s climactic bloodbath, with Kato (Tomokazu Miura) now leading the Sanno clan into a new era of prosperity, much to the chagrin of his old-guard executives, who resent having to answer to young-pup second-in-command Ishihara (Ryo Kase). Crooked detective Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata) fails to set in motion a plot to have the Hanabishi clan help overthrow Kato — a stance Kataoka hopes will prove to his superiors that he’s not completely on the take; afterward he turns to Otomo (Kitano), who miraculously survived his prison yard stabbing and has been living out the remainder of his jail sentence in peace and quiet, thanks to Kataoka spreading a rumor about his demise.
Otomo teams with Kimura (Hideo Nakano), the man who shanked him, and upon release promptly sets about scheming against Kato. This initiates a series of elaborate double-cross plots that Kitano lays out with the same cold detachment as in his prior work. Yet since he has nothing new to add to his portrait of gangsters using every opportunity — either due to rivals’ strategic mistakes, disrespectful behavior, or ruthless betrayals — to climb the yakuza ladder, the film quickly becomes a series of de rigueur assassinations that strain to match Outrage‘s signature maiming-by-dental-tools scene. Otomo’s use of an electric drill to elicit a key confession seems as perfunctory as the rest of his ultra-violence. Despite being shot with Kitano’s usual aestheticized formal grace, it’s all undercut by a going-through-the-motions blandness.
Detailing an intricate web of power-struggle relations between characters whose sole purpose is to restate the series’ firmly established thesis that criminals are self-interested, unethical bastards, Beyond Outrage is the very sort of tiresome tough-guy retread that, with 2007’s meta drama Glory to the Filmmaker! and 2008’s darkly comic Achilles and the Tortoise, Kitano seemed to have outgrown. When his Otomo confesses to Kimura, “I’m too old for this shit,” it’s not only a statement that resonates as the filmmaker’s sly confession about his feelings for such yakuza tales, but also proves to be another tiresome cliché.