Beyond Outrage

Jealousy, betrayal, revenge, ambition, and dissatisfaction with the boss are the staples of life within any Yakuza crime family. So says actor, film director and screenwriter Takeshi Kitano. And that’s just within a particular family. Per Kitano, these rivalries also spread to battles between crime families.

In the 1972 classic, The Godfather, the character called Clemenza (played by Richard Castellano) called it – going to the mattresses. A term meaning that as the gang wars raged, the participants holed up in safe houses that lacked sufficient bedrooms – so some had to make do with sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

In Kitano’s latest yakuza film called Beyond Outrage (2012) they didn’t bother with euphemisms – they just said – let’s wage war. This film is the sequel to Outrage, also written, directed and starring Takeshi Kitano.

His character is called Otomo, and terms like nasty, brutal, and ‘in your face’, are only the starting point for this guy. We thought he might have been killed off at the end of Outrage, but now we find out that this was just the tale told to keep him alive while he did a stretch in prison.

As Beyond Outrage begins we learn that Kato, the new head of the Sanno family, who got to his position by bumping off the former head (via a betrayal by his body-guard), is not so well liked by some of the underbosses. especially because that same bodyguard was installed as a senior executive. Also right there near the top is Ishihara who was once Otomo’s right hand before betraying him (in Outrage) So the situation was ripe with dissatisfaction and jealousy.

That's Kato seated facing us, and Ishihara standing with arms crossed, at a meeting of the Sanno crime family bosses.

That’s Kato seated facing us, and Ishihara standing with arms crossed, at a meeting of the Sanno crime family bosses.

In steps police Detective Kataoka played marvelously by Fumino Kohinata. Kataoka takes money from the Sanno family. He also takes money from a competing family, based in Osaka, called the Hanabishi. He does major favors for these gangs in exchange for plenty of Yen as well as an occasional bust. In short, Kataoka’s game plan is to play one gang off against the other, take money from each, and use his occasional busts to help him rise in the police ranks.

Almost before you settle into your seat, a Sanno underboss is having a meet with the head of the Hanabishi (engineered by Kataoka of course). And just as of course – this underboss will not survive once the Sanno gang finds out.

We hear you met with the Hanabishi

We hear you met with the Hanabishi

So we go back and forth – antagonists become allies, allies become antagonists, and Kataoka will have Otomo released from prison and injected into the midst. Immediately the stakes are ratcheted up.

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Carnage & I Wish

As a movie watcher, I’ve no say at which films are booked into my local cineplex and no say in when they play. I’m just the consumer, and the business of movies has nothing to do with me. Except for the buying of the tickets. The result of what I am able to see is also a function of where I live. Some areas are deemed important or prime to the movie distributors, and other areas less so. When I lived in Manhattan, nearly everything I wished to see could be found. Even films that opened in a selective limited release would be screened in New York. This is not the case in Sarasota, Florida. But in today’s world of modern technology, if I can’t see a film in a film theater, eventually I will be able to see it at home via either a film delivery service like Netflix, or I could see it via the On-Demand service provided by my cable company.

All of the above is neither here nor there but is just a part of the root cause of how I happened to watch two films two days ago. The other factors were that baseball has just concluded the 2012 season, football games are rarely scheduled on Tuesday, The NHL is in the midst of a lockout, and the NBA has just started its season. The fact that these two films that can safely be placed under the umbrella category of ‘family dramas’ isn’t that meaningful either, in the context of why I watched them.

What is important is how different these two films are.

On its surface, I Wish (Kiseki) is a film about two brothers, separated by the failed marriage of their parents. One boy, the older brother, lives in Kagoshima, a southern coastal city on the Japanese island Kyushu with his mother and her parents. The younger boy lives in Fukuoka, a city on the north end of the same island, with his Dad.

Once upon a time, we were a family …

Both of the boys wish that they could be reunited and once again live as a family. So as we watch, we hope that the brothers wishes come true. We want the family to be unified.

What the boys dream about …

In Carnage, directed by Roman Polanski, the story begins with a playground squabble between two 11-year-old boys. We don’t know what they’re arguing about as the camera is set up at a distance and slightly above this Brooklyn, NY, schoolyard playground. What happens is that argument escalates into pushing and shoving until one boy strikes the other boy with a stick. The result is muted because of our distance from the action, but we will come to learn that the boy who took the blow, lost at least one tooth, and he might lose a second.. The aftermath of the playground scrap is the meeting of the four parents, sans children, which forms the meat and potatoes of the film.

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Patissiere Coin de Rue

Despite the international title, Patissiere Coin de Rue being in French, this is not a tale set in Paris, or even in France. Instead we are set up in Tokyo, Japan. Actually the title of the film is also the name of an elegant cafe where the finest cakes and pastries are made and enjoyed. For the record, the Japanese title is Yougashiten Koandoru which means the same as the French words. But let’s get on with the review.

Q: What’s wrong with my cake?
A: You work too slowly. Your cream was too runny. The syrup was uneven.

That’s not good news for the young woman, Natsume, who begged for a job at the elegant Patissiere Coin de Rue. She had come to Tokyo from Kagoshima following a boy from her hometown, who she considered to be much more than a friend and almost her fiancée. His name was Umi and he’d come to Tokyo earlier and landed a job at the Patissiere Coin de Rue because he wanted to become a better baker than she was. Only he left the Patisierre, likely because he wasn’t up to the task.

Natsume works on her audition cake

When Natsume, showed up and did not find Umi, she was at first disappointed. She was also in denial. He had written a letter to her when he left Kagoshima – ‘this is goodbye – I’m sure you’ll find another man‘, and so forth, a ‘Dear Joan’ letter if there ever was one, but she wasn’t ready to accept that he had left her.

At the Patissiere after getting the news that Umi no longer worked there, and no one knew where he could be found, Natsume asks for a job (they were looking for someone) and is given an opportunity. She’s to make a cake from scratch as her audition, a trial by fire as it were.

Natsume’s audition cake

When finished, the patissiere staff all sampled it and no one jumped out of their shoes in excitement. It was a passable cake for a Christmas Sale – but not up to their exacting standards. So she was turned down. The proprietress sat her down and told that she should look for work elsewhere. She offered the young baker, a nice dessert to eat and to soften the after taste of being turned down.

The ‘cheer up’ dessert

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Flavor of Happiness aka Shiawase no kaori

‘This is the life of my cooking. Takako-san, you have to learn this flavor inside out. This flavor is your future.’

We’ll get to that quote above in a while. But to start, let me describe the film’s opening for you. From a darkened screen we suddenly see a gas stove come alive. We watch the blue flames dance and jump. These flames heat a wok and some oil. Eggs are poured into the wok. We watch an unseen hand make the eggs turn over and over from the repeated stirring followed by flipping motions. Then some small tomato eighths are added and stir fried along with the eggs . We’ve just watched the signature breakfast dish (scrambled eggs and tomato) of the Little Shanghai restaurant being made.

Of course this sweet drama entitled Flavor of Happiness is about a Chinese restaurant tucked away next to small bridge. We aren’t in Shanghai, or even China. This place is Kanazawa, Japan. Its owner and sole chef, Qingkuo Wang is an elderly man. He’s taciturn, and not particularly outgoing, but he’s a wizard at the wok.

The restaurant is usually quite busy and it has come to the attention of a large department store in town that would like to sell his prepared dishes as take-away-meals at their store. Takako Yamashita (portrayed by Miki Nakatani) is a young executive in the department store and she’s been tasked to get the chef/owner’s agreement on a contract.

Only he wants no part of it. Wang is played by Tatsuya Fuji who is most widely known for his role in the 1978 classic In the Realm of the Senses. He says he will only cook for people whose faces he can see. So Takako comes back again, and again – she takes her lunch there as often as possible. At her office, her bosses amp up the pressure – get his agreement!

But still, it is no go. But Wang begins to notice her as she’s become a regular customer. He’s a little more open to conversation but still not interested in a business deal.

Two things happen – one at work …

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13 Assassins

Heads will roll.

If you’ve worked in a corporate environment any time in the last 25-30 years, then it’s likely you’ve heard that expression. When a corporation makes a huge error in a product line or a miscalculation on the public relations front resulting in major corporate losses on the P&L, or even massive loss of face to the corporate image, this is when people would lose their heads. In the aftermath of such an event, the folks working in these outfits do what is commonly called – hunker down.

That is keeping your head out of view so it won’t get lopped off in what is euphemistically called corporate downsizing. If you are not summarily fired, depending on your rank, you may be spared that public ignominy by being offered the opportunity to resign.

That’s today. Go back about 150 or 160 years to the Edo period in Japan, and things worked in the same way with some subtle variations. Instead of being offered an opportunity to resign, you probably knew that your usefulness was at an end – and it was better to take your own life through the ritual of seppuku or hara-kiri. That meant cutting open your own abdomen in such a way that your guts literally fell out of your body.

Once that was done, someone would spare you the stress of watching your own blood pour out of your body until you were dead, by cutting off your head in a single stroke of a sword.

Hence the term – heads will roll came into play.

In Takashi Miike’s 2010 film called 13 Assassins, a certain Lord Naritsugu (above) is a very bad man. Briefly – he’s the son of the former Shogun, and he’s brother to the current Shogun, which means that in his home territory he would be untouchable; so well protected that it would be impossible to get at him.

Why do they want to assassinate him? To begin with, he’s a rapist; and it only gets worse from there. He cut off a woman’s limbs – then her tongue. Why? Because he could. He visited a town, and raped a woman who had been chosen to serve his food. When her husband objected, Naritsugu not only killed him – but then hacked his body to pieces in front of the wife.

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You Cannot Look Away: Harry Brown & Outrage

Right. You cannot look away. Don’t we all have a fascination with revenge on the one hand, and the internecine battles between hoodlums, mobsters, gangsters, assorted members of Organized Crime families, and even the Yakuza, on the other hand. We can’t say with certainty that films like the Charles Bronson Death Wish series or The Godfather trilogy started the trend, or that The Sopranos made killing so fashionably entertaining, sorry – fascinating. But we can use those visual mediums as the mileposts on the long highway of cinematic and broadcast mayhem.

Michael Caine who most of us have come to love in his various incarnations over his more than 50 years as an actor in films, has played many kinds of roles –  like a spy (The Ipcress File), a ladies’ man (Alfie), a gangster (Get Carter) or even a gentlemanly con-man (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) to name but a few of his most iconic and memorable, now appears as the titular character in Harry Brown.

Caine/Brown plays a British ex-marine living out his retirement years in South London in what they call an estate in the film. We might call it an apartment block, or even more accurately – a housing project. Not too long into the film, we learn that Harry is a brand new widower, and then, he’s going to lose his best and only friend to the neighborhood ‘kids’, and that the neighborhood is going bad, and quickly.

The neighborhood values have changed to a degree ...

So Harry whose life was a daily pint or two of ale and a quiet game of chess with his buddy at the local pub … now has lost even that. From his direct view of the goings on from his 3rd story flat – the picture is decidedly bleak. But the film posters and the taglines tell us everything we need to know about what will happen:

  •  Every man has a breaking point.
  • The law has limits. He doesn’t.
  • One man will take a stand.

Harry Brown: What's all this about? D.I. Frampton: I'm sorry to have to tell you this but Mr. Attwell is dead...

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Hanamizuki

Hanamizuki [Flowering Dogwood – and tag-lined: May your love bloom for 100 years] will mostly likely not last 100 months in your memory. But that doesn’t mean you can’t watch and enjoy it for what it is – a sweet drama with appealing actors and actresses in situations that we all can identify with.

The star of the film is Yui Aragaki who is affectionately known as ‘Gakki‘ by her legion of fans. In this film she’s the central character. As the film opens it is in the early 1980’s and a small Japanese girl is reaching upward to the blossoms on the tree. Flash forward to 2005, and we find ourselves tracking a bus as it drives along the coast of Nova Scotia in Canada.

It is then, on this bus, that we meet Gakki as the now adult Sae Hirisawa. An English speaking young girl ask Sae some questions and we find out that she is headed for a lighthouse where she says, “… I am meant to be…”. The camera pans down and we see a framed photo in her hands.

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Chonmage Purin aka A Boy and His Samurai

The last thing I expected to find in a film called A Boy and His Samurai, and with an image of delicious looking custards on the cover, was a story that would embrace the fact that in these modern times, every woman should have the opportunity to be independent along with ability to join the work force. The film asks us to re-assess gender roles that have been in place in some cultures for centuries.

The film is called, in Japanese, Chonmage Purin. The title for Western markets is A Boy and His Samurai. We first meet a single divorced Mom with a five-year old son. She is called Hiroko and she’s played by Rie Tomosaka. Her son, Tomoya is played by Fuku Suzuki – and he’s got to be one of the all-time cutest kids you’ll ever see on television or in the movies. Hiroko works at an ad agency and she’s a mid-level manager. She oversees a team of computer developers and programmers. She’s resented because she’s a woman, because she arrives late and leaves early – dropping Tomoya off and picking him up at day-care as her colleagues think that this is a perk that they don’t have. Even her boss, throws an occasional verbal jab at her about this. Of course, you’ve known forever that life in the corporate world is never easy.

One day after work and shopping, Hiroko and Tomoya, while heading home, the film  is set in modern-day Tokyo, they see a decidedly incongruous samurai standing in front of a supermarket. He carries his swords, his hair is in a top-knot, and he wears a samurai robe over a kimono and sandals. They dismiss it as a shopping promotion. A few days later, he’s still around, though this time his movements are furtive, and he’s taking steps to not be seen. But they meet unexpectedly, and they’re both shocked. Hiroko screams, clutching her son, and the samurai, called Yasube Kijima, brandishes his sword.

We come to discover that this Samurai is actually from the Edo Period in Japan – roughly 1820, and he’s traveled through time, more than 180 years to the present. No explanations are given – one moment he was praying to a stone Buddha in his own time and place, then the next minute he was here in Modern day Tokyo, likely the same place, but definitely not the same time.

He’s desperately hungry, he stinks, and he has no idea at all as to what happened. Hiroko takes him in and offers a few days lodging and food. Hopefully, things would get sorted out. Well, easily enough, they are able to conclude that Yasube is from another time – each of them have severe culture shock regarding the other.

Yasube is shocked that Hiroko is a single mother, that she’s divorced, and that she was the one who forced the divorce. Even more shocking to Yasube, is that Hiroko does not stay at home, that she goes out and works. In his time, this didn’t happen. Men went out to ‘earn the rice’ as he put it, and the women stayed home to raise the children and see to the household. Yasube lived in the time and place of a patriarchal society, which at that time went unquestioned and unchallenged.

Hiroko, doesn’t quite ‘get’ Yasube’s perception of her situation being a puzzle to him. In her mind, in the contemporary world she inhabits, going to work, raising a child, and taking pride in both efforts and achievements seems perfectly natural to her. It is the way things are and should be.

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Norwegian Wood

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me… She showed me her room, isn’t it good, norwegian wood?

Those are the opening lyrics from the Lennon/McCartney tune Norwegian Wood which was penned circa 1965. That’s a long time ago.

In 1987, Japanese author Haruki Murakami wrote a novel entitled Norwegian Wood. The novel begins with a man (Toru) hearing a cover of that song which causes him to think back to a time 20 years before and to think of his relationship with a woman named Naoko.

Moving forward to the present and the very near past – in 2010, the novel Norwegian Wood was adapted for the screen. The Paris based Vietnamese film director Ahn Hung Tran took Murakami’s book and brought it to the screen with a Japanese cast. Netflix has this film listed but doesn’t have an available date yet – but you can save it for a future viewing. Or you can track it down  and order it from a few vendors on the web.

The story is a tale of the past and the present battling within one man. Toru, played by Kenichi Matsuyama had a couple of childhood friends, a girl – Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi who appeared in Babel) and her guy – Kizuki. Very early on one of these people will take their own life. Of the two that remain, one will go on to a sanatorium as life in the real world has become impossible .

(left to right) Toru, Kizuki, and Naoko

The film is set during a time when upheaval and revolt (Make love, not war – or in this case USA leave Okinawa) seemed to be going on everywhere. It was a time of the Beatles, hippies, and it was the time of sexual awakening. The topics are loss, love, loss of innocence with side roads into despair, longing, and desperation. The director and his crew have lovingly recreated this period for us in the clothes, the haircuts, the attitudes, the protest marches, and even the automobiles.

That’s the overview. From a review perspective this is a difficult film. Tran has captured the essence of the book at a cost of much of the detail. It seems that the film is disjointed.

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