Beyond Outrage Takeshi Kitano is Back in Yakuza Sequel

Beyond Outrage Takeshi Kitano is Back in Yakuza Sequel

Although Outrage, aka Autoreiji was made in 2010, the sequel, Beyond Outrage did not get made until 2012; now Takeshi Kitano is back in this brilliant Yakuza sequel. Kitano wrote and directed both films under the Kitano banner and he reprises his role as Otomo, the lethal underboss in the original film.

Outrage (2010)

After a long absence from the Yakuza films that made his name, Beat Takeshi, aka Takeshi Kitano is back on form in this violent Yakuza film. Enjoy!

Uzumaki (2000): The Spirals in the town go round, round, round

Uzumaki original poster.

Uzumaki originally began life as a three-volume horror manga by Junji Ito. The theme (according to Wikipedia) is as follows: The story concerns the inhabitants of the small Japanese town of Kurôzu-cho that seems to be cursed by supernatural events surrounding spirals. Many people become obsessed or paranoid about spiral shapes, which starts resulting in several gruesome deaths. Eventually people start transforming into something other than human, such as snails and twisted forms. In the end the town is cut off from the rest of the world, which leads to apocalyptic events and a revelation about the secret hidden under the lake in the middle of the town. [sic]

The film follows the manga to a great degree focusing on some aspects and leaving others out. The ending is different as the manga had not finished when the film was made.

Directed by Higuchinsky Uzumaki was his second foray into the world of film the first being a TV movie (Long Dream which also dealt with supernatural theme and was based on a comic) before doing films Higuchinsky directed music videos. Being a fan of manga he decided to make the feature film based on Junji Ito’s story.

Ito is well-known for doing “horror” comics. He also did Tomie. Tomie is another manga that has been made into feature films as well. Takashi Shimzu even made a version of it. Including Uzumaki and Tomie, 21 of Ito’s manga’s have been made into films.

Uzumaki tells of a small village that is “cursed” by spirals and it centres on schoolgirl Kirie Goshima, her boyfriend Shuichi Saito and his family; and some of Kirie’s classmates. A reporter comes to the town to investigate the odd events and he winds up being afflicted by the curse as well.

The deaths of those touched by the “curse of the spiral” all centre around spirals. One girl’s hair starts turning into intricate spiral shapes and traps her, starving her to death. Another lad gets wound around the tyre of a car that runs him down. Spirals have taken the village over and separated them from the world outside (except for the reporter).

Higuchinsky has taken great care to set the film up in the style of the manga. He uses green shading throughout, just like the manga does. He also sets the death scenes up “manga style;” copying  set pieces from the book itself. Of course like the manga, spirals appear everywhere, often in places where you would not think to look.

The ultimate bad hair day.

There is quite a lot that did not make it into the film. The episode with the pregnant ladies from the village and their new babies is just one example. Other scenes; like the school boy turning into a snail-like creature is in the film and it’s done brilliantly, looking again just like a “live” manga.

The film also changed some of the character’s interaction. The girl with the spiral hair is originally competing with Kirie in a sort of spiral hair contest. In the manga Shuichi saves Kirie by cutting her curly locks off. In the film Kirie does not have a single curl on her head.

Most of the cast are first time actors with the exception of Beat Takeshi regular Ren Ohsugi and Keiko Takahashi. But this wealth of “new” talent does not hurt the film. This is a brilliant little film and it is fun to watch. Oddly enough, despite the excellent job that Higuchinsky does on this film, he has not worked on any further projects since 2003. Google his name and nothing comes up past that point.

If anyone out there knows what Higuchinsky is doing now, please let me know. I hate to think of all that talent going to waste. As I’ve said before he got his start doing music videos; and  this was his first foray into feature films (his first being a TV film and not a proper feature length film) and he actually filmed Uzumaki in less than 2 weeks with a budget of under a million dollars. This type of ingenuity is hard to find.

Some critics have said that the film is hard to follow and confusing. As Higuchinsky himself said, “What’s so confusing? It’s a film about spirals.” I could not have put it any better myself.

Uzumaki is a definite 5 star film. It is also a film that should top any list of “films to see” before you shuffle off this mortal coil.

Twisted love.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami: Still Crazy After all These Years

Paperback version of the book.

Originally published in 1999 amid a flurry of controversy that would rise to a cacophony when a film one year later was adapted from the novel, Battle Royale still packs one hell of a punch. The story of a group of Junior High School students who are made to kill each other off until only one remains, still shocks and astounds 13 years after its first appearance in bookstores and libraries across the world.

After reading the book and watching the film of The Hunger Games written by Suzanne Collins, I still find it hard to believe that she never heard of either the original story or film (made by the iconic Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku). I am sure that she is telling the truth as there are enough instances of the two stories (although Collins has spread the Hunger Games stories over three separate books) being vastly different. There are, however quite a few circumstances where the two stories share a lot of things; the contestants being chosen by “lottery” or the packs that each contestant picks up before the battle commences are just two such instantances.

Of course both books are set in “the future” Hunger Games in a post apocalyptic America and Battle Royale in a future Japan that has outstripped America as a world power through the appointment of a dictator and an economy that has reduced the USA to third world country status. Japan’s isolationism has allowed them to indulge in practises that would be frowned upon by other countries.

It is part of this isolated countries culture that random Junior High School classes are picked (by computer) and “kidnapped” by authorities. These 14 and 15-year-old children are then transported to a secret location where they will be armed (some better than others) and set out to kill each other off.

The whole exercise is to show just how equal everyone is in this new Japan. No one is exempt. But like every government that is part of a dictatorship, it is corrupt and unfair, despite the propaganda that tells the masses otherwise. We meet the main players in the Battle and are given enough information that we not only bond with some of the kids, but we can see why the other children act the way they do.

Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa are the boy and girl who wind up together because Shuya’s best friend (who dies before the games even start) had a crush on Noriko and she, in turn, has a crush on Shuya; along with most of the girls in their class.

Shuya is an orphan who loves the state banned American Rock and Roll and has learned to play the electric guitar. He is good at sports and is an all round “good egg.” If anything, he is a bit too good. Noriko and Shuya team up with the older transfer student Shogo Kawada (who has actually played and won a previous Battle Royale). Together they form an alliance to stay alive while facing the murderous psychopath Kazuo Kiriyama and his female counterpart Mitsuko Souma and the other children who are fighting to stay alive till the end of the three day game.

The book is much more political in nature than Collins’ Hunger Games (although she does pay a sort of “lip service” to dictatorships in the books) and it is, despite its xenophobic setting, of a larger scale of international intent. In Takami’s verse the survivors of the games want to run away to the third world country that America has become. It brings to mind that perhaps they will meet Katniss Everdeen when they arrive.

When the film was adapted for the screen by Kinji Fukasaku’s son, it has to be one of the best screenplays ever written. Even though the film did not copy the book page by page, the casting of “unknown” child actors and the iconic Beat Takeshi and the feeling that the director was able to infuse the film with made the movie a run-a-way hit. The film is a cult favourite and is set up to get the “Hollywood” remake treatment.

This is a book that, whether you’ve seen the film or not, is one hell of a ride. You suffer with the kids as they have to kill off their friends and find out who they can trust. The two psychos of the book are truly terrifying and will scare you with their cold-blooded will to survive. There was also a Manga of the book release in several volumes, difficult to find in the UK, but well worth the effort. These Manga’s were almost as entertaining as the book and the film.

My final verdict is a full 5 stars out of 5. Once you pick this book up, you will not want to put it down. And although it’s a little too close to Christmas to come up with ideas of “stocking stuffers” you could do a lot worse than getting a copy of this brilliant book shoved in your stocking.

The equally controversial film with Beat Takeshi

Hana-bi (1997) Takeshi Kitano’s Bittersweet Romance

Apart from Battle Royale (released in 2000 and directed by Kinji Fukasaku) Takeshi Kitano aka Beat Takeshi has never been better. Written, directed and edited by Beat hana-bi (translates as fireworks) is another facet of his view on crime and the penalty it exacts from its participants.

Hana-bi is a slow ballad of a film. It has a relentless rhythm from the very first frame. I have titled my review a “Bittersweet Romance” but in terms of the overall film, it really is more of a romantic tragedy. Either way you want to describe the film would fit, but I’ve always felt that romance was the ruling factor of the film.

With Beat Takeshi’s character, Nishi and his wife Myuki (Kayoko Kishimoto) their double tragedy [the death of their 5-year-old daughter and Myuki’s dying from leukaemia] is not enough to defeat the obvious love that they have for one another. Their humour has managed to survive the battering that their life has taken. Late in the film, Nishi sets up a camera on the side of their car to take a timed picture. Just as the camera takes their photo another car drives in between them and it. Their laughter over the incident feels infectious and genuine.

The vast majority of the film is a mixture of flash backs and “present day” which works very well. You do have to pay attention though or you can get a bit lost. But regardless of the “to-ing and fro-ing” of the sequences the rhythm of the film is still relentless.

And relentless describes Nishi’s life perfectly. He has so many plates spinning at once that it’s easy to see why his character rarely says anything; but having said that, it is a trait of Beat Takeshi characters in almost all of his films. His taciturn and stoic face with its tics and mannerisms says more in repose than he could ever say literally.

Nishi’s boss and best friend Horibe (played by Takeshi regular Ren Ohsugi) is shot and paralysed when he does Nishi’s stake-out duty so Nishi can visit his wife in hospital. Noribe then has a difficult time dealing with life in a wheel chair and takes up art as a therapy measure.

Nishi and Horibe on the way to the stake-out.

When Nishi and two detectives catch the villain who shot Horibe, Nishi is punched repeatedly in the face and thrown off the suspect. Kudoh and Nakamura (played by another Takeshi regular Susumu Terajima) jump on the yakuza to restrain him. The yakuza then shoots both Kudoh and Nakamura. Nakamura is wounded but Kudoh dies on the scene. Nishi takes his service revolver out and shoots the yakuza in the head.

He then goes over to the dead yakuza and empties his revolver into the dead man’s head. This results in Nishi getting fired from the force. Already in debt to a local yakuza gang because of loans he took out for his wife’s hospital bills and their daughter’s death, Nishi decides to rob a bank to set everything right. He takes his dying wife on a holiday, pays for Horibe’s painting supplies and gives Kudoh’s widow a huge sum of money.

Since the pervading mood of the film is its relentless nature, we know that Nishi is going to pay dearly for his generosity and his guilt.

Most of Beat Takeshi’s films feature a lone character that doesn’t conform or sets himself away from other’s. His characters always have a nasty end or at the very least a short violent one. His message seems to be that it is alright to live to your own rules and ideals, but it will cost you in the end.

All of Takeshi’s films feature a lot of shots of the sea. Hana-bi features a lot of scenes by the sea and focuses on the waves beating against the shore or the tide coming in. This again points the film’s theme toward relentlessness and he appears to be drawing a parallel between the never-ending waves and the theme of the film.

The art that Horibe paints and draws in the film were all done by Beat Takeshi himself. Some of the most emotional scenes come from Horibe studying flowers in a shop and “seeing” the pictures that he will draw in his mind. Dogs with sunflowers for heads are just some of the funny, and odd, images he creates.

If ever any one man could be deemed an institution Takeshi Kitano is that man. The running joke in Japan’s entertainment industry is that Beat Takeshi is on television 8 days a week. Takeshi does have several television shows, writes articles for many different publications and writes, directs, and edits his own films. There seems to be no end to this man’s talent pool.

In August of 1994 Kitano was in an accident while riding his moped. The crash almost killed him and left his face partially paralysed. As part of his therapy he took up painting and poetry.  By 1995 he was back to  work full-time.

Beat Takeshi is an amazing individual who rose from humble beginnings to become an institution and an icon of Japanese culture. In the England people watch Takeshi’s Castle a Japanese game show that Beat shows up for at the end of each program to “fight off” winning contestants to keep them from winning the ultimate prize. Most of the viewers (and apparently the producers and the narrator of the show) have no idea who Takeshi is.

Hana-bi is always mentioned as the last in a trilogy that Takeshi helmed for himself. Violent Cop (1989), Sonatine (1993) and Hana-bi (1997) all feature a character who marches to the “beat” of his own drum and is more than happy to pay the price required to do so.

If I could equate Beat Takeshi’s acting style to anyone from the western world of cinema, I’d say he is the Japanese  Spencer Tracy. But that would be in the area of acting alone, I honestly don’t think there is anyone in the industry who equates 100 percent to Takeshi Kitano.

If you can stand to sit through the subtitles, watch this film. The translated title of Fireworks might be easier to find, but whatever title it’s being sold or rented as, it’s worth watching.

Takeshi Kitano aka Beat Takeshi