This marks my first ever review of a Japanese yakuza film… that was directed by a white French guy. Honestly though, I had to double check who made this because it felt like a Beat Takeshi film. Ironically, I think the last yakuza film I saw was Beat’s sequel to Outrage, Beyond Outrage. And now that I’m on his IMDB page, I see he has yet another Outrage movie. So I’m sure to check that one out as soon as I can find it.
It makes sense that I’d compare The Outsider to something Beat Takeshi made, since this film reminded me a lot of Brother, the only film to my recollection that ever got a US release in theaters. Though maybe his remake of Zatoichi did as well, I’m not sure.
I first got into Beat Takeshi thanks to Tarantino. Awhile back he had this recommendation collection for VHS. And one of those was for the yakuza film Sonatine, a violent, kind of disturbing gangster movie. I’m not the biggest fan of his more dramatic or comedic movies, but when Beat does a yakuza gangster film… watch out. You’re in for long static shots, mostly of him sitting, then sudden bursts of intense violence.
I love yakuza films. Well, I did. Like I mentioned before, it’s been a while since I’ve seen one. My interests shifted more towards South Korean films at the time, since what was coming out of there I thought was more compelling. I’d stick around for the latest Takashi Miike movie, but for the most part my love of Japanese films had basically dissipated.
Recently however, I’ve been getting back into anime. After watching Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters on Netflix, I’ve been going down the list of shows and movies I might have missed during my long absence.
Another thing that has piqued my interest once again, was seeing Seijun Suzuki’s name pop up during the in memoriam segment at the Oscars this year. The guy was like 100 years old when he made Pistol Opera, so I just figured he had died long ago. If you aren’t familiar with him or his work, I guess he’s best known for his films Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill.
Branded to Kill I believe was the inspiration for the film Ghost Dog.
Anyway, after watching the trailer for The Outsider, which is a trailer I love, I thought okay, maybe this could be my next review. I’ve pretty much reviewed just about every genre but this one, so here it is. Maybe the only positive review for the Netflix original film The Outsider.
We start the film off in a Japanese prison set in the early 50’s. I didn’t even notice until the film told me this wasn’t present day. The lack of schoolgirls getting attacked by tentacles should have been a dead giveaway.
Anyways, we are introduced to Nick, played by Jared Leto, who is looking like he just stepped off the set of Blade Runner 2049.
Giving Jared Leto’s character a name also seemed unimportant as the guy never really talks, mainly because everyone speaks Japanese, while he knows about as much as I do. They’d be better off just naming him gaijin, as that’s what everyone calls him anyways.
Think of him as The Driver from Drive. Mostly silent, not much really known about his background… In Nick’s case, you find out he was in the military before going AWOL. Somehow, reasons unknown to us, he finds himself in a Japanese prison.
While cleaning up the public showers/baths, he runs into a yakuza that have just been hung by members of a rival gang. After Nick saves his life, Kiyoshi is now indebted to him, pledging to get Nick free once he is. To do this however, Kiyoshi needs to get himself to the infirmary. Once there he can get word out to his yakuza family to free him.
The plan is for Kiyoshi to basically commit seppuku, a sharp blade sliced through his abdomen.
Still feeling indebted to him, he takes Nick to meet the rest of his yakuza family. There they make him an offer, he needs to go see a guy about a thing.
That thing being an American who runs a steel company. The yakuza want their cut of the profits but this guy isn’t playing their intimidation game. Enter Nick, thinking since they’re both American, he can get through to him. But that isn’t exactly how that works out, seeing as Nick negotiates by beating his head in with a typewriter.
After this show of violence, they set Nick up with a place to live and kind of a probationary status as a yakuza. He isn’t one of them, but he’s on his way to be. First he needs to do more jobs for them.
Kiyoshi belongs to the Shiromatsu clan, their rivals being the Seizu clan. They are fighting over turf, gambling rackets and ports. The boss of the Shiromatsu clan is getting older and is losing respect not only amongst his rivals but also their own members.
Almost instantly Nick is hated by Orochi, a fellow yakuza and childhood friend to Kiyoshi. Nick notices Orochi’s hand and the missing fingers. A ritual for those he displease their boss. Seems Orochi has had some issues in the past.
Trusting Nick with more responsibilities, the yakuza send him to a military base to acquire a shipment of guns. But he is ambushed at the meet by the rival Seizu gang.
Even though he was able to hide the money that was meant to be used for the gun sale, he still killed a few of their rival’s members. To hopefully squash any future retaliation, Nick has to offer two of his fingers up for the chopping block.
I’ve never cut a finger off, but I assume it’s pretty painful. Well, you couldn’t tell here as pinkies slide off the bone like cubing up a chicken breasts, not a peep from anyone.
Nick in prison was kind of groveling and pathetic, but now that he’s out of prison he’s a badass that can kill 4 guys in the blink of an eye and chop off a finger or two without even flinching.
Also joining in the finger chopping party, Kiyoshi joins in, finally losing his finger dissection virginity.
Somewhere along the way, Nick meets Miyu, Kiyoshi’s younger sister. She works at the bar they frequent. Kiyoshi is a bit overprotective with her, fearing she could easily be targeted by rival gangs.
He has Nick look after her, we all know what that’s going to lead to. Of course they end of sleeping together. Kiyoshi isn’t upset, but wants Nick to back off, she’s off limits.
But of course Nick doesn’t listen and continues the relationship, even getting her pregnant.
With things changing in a post-world war 2 Japan, the Shiromatsu clan is too stuck in their ways, their old boss refusing to get with the times. This pisses Orochi off, knowing there’s more lucrative avenues they can peruse but are refused by their old school boss. So Orochi joins with the Seizu clan.
After a failed assassination attempt on the Shiromatsu leader, killing Kiyoshi in the process, there’s now all-out war.
Wanting to put an end to this quickly, the Shiromatsu clan agrees to have a meet to hash out their issues. But of course it’s a trap, killing their boss.
Fearing for Miyu’s safety, Nick puts her in hiding and grabs a sword.
Apparently this isn’t such a big deal as the leader of the Seizu clan lets him go unharmed.
Now leaderless, Nick steps up as the new boss of the Shiromatsu clan.
And that’s The Outsider.
I really enjoyed this movie, of course other critics hated it. One complaint being what they see as another case of Hollywood whitewashing. But the character is meant to be white. It wouldn’t make sense if he wasn’t. The conflict there being he’s a white man in a post WW2 Japan. Even making the character Asian American doesn’t work. The name of the film is THE OUTSIDER. Unless this is based on a book where the main lead was black or Asian, I don’t think you can claim whitewashing here.
The character of Nick I can see as a problem with some. Like I said, he doesn’t really say much and is prone to violence. When it comes to gangster movies, we are usually a bit more accepting of our main characters to be vile people. Nick is no different.
It was also pretty predictable that Orochi was working with the rival gang. He might as well be holding a sign over his head that reads DON’T TRUST ME! I WILL BETRAY YOU!!!
I thought maybe there might be a kind of twist, Orochi was way too obvious, that maybe the real bad guy was actually Kiyoshi. And Nick had to decide to choose him or his newfound yakuza family.
As soon as I saw Miyu I thought, dead meat. But they never went that way. I mean, they made her pregnant. That’s like a death sentence in gangster films. She’s pregnant and the sister to a yakuza leader, not to mention secretly dating a very hated member of said gang. The fact she even made it to the second act was a miracle.
I give this film a SEE IT rating. But that really all depends on your love of Japanese gangster films, Jared Leto and subtitles, as maybe 80% of this is in Japanese.
Now I leave you with these words of wisdom.
Watashi wa anata ga watashi no o shiri ni fureru koto o aisuru
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