4 out of 5
Directed by: Takashi Miike
When I first watched Deadly Outlaw: Rekka (which I’ll never understand why it’s titled in that half-translated way, with ‘Rekka’ meaning, approximately, ‘raging fire’), I was already well-versed in the films of director Takashi Miike’s beyond his ‘notorious’ ones, so I knew and appreciated that his movies could vary drastically beyond the last frame shocks of Audition; or the in-yer-faceness of Visitor Q; or the uber gore of Ichi. Still, DO:R didn’t register as much more than a lower-tier yakuza flick from the director, taking some notes from his other films (particularly Dead Or Alive) and adding a typically-Miike left-field coda. The flick was filed away in my collection, and not considered for regularly re-viewing.
Arrow Video decided to put out an edition (on DVD…) some years later, which seemed a good a time as any to give it another try. While my memories of the flick were admittedly vague, I at least recalled not being super impressed, so I went it to it with expectation set to ‘hum-drum.’ And it seems like that’s what was needed.
There are, undeniably, notes of other movies sprinkled throughout Rekka, looking both back and forward in Miike’s oeuvre, from the high-velocity DOA opening (and explosion-littered final sequence), to some Full Metal Yakuza goofiness, to the kind of playful self-acknowledgment that appeared in Gozu. But this isn’t a matter of a director repeating himself, but rather Miike messing with expectations – his own, perhaps, along with the viewer and of the yakuza genre. Which is, admittedly, another common method for the director, but it never feels unjustified: Rekka, swirling behind Riki Takeuchi’s trademark grimace / smile thing, is very purposefully confused. It’s a modern yakuza gangwar set to a 70s prog score (from Flower Travelin’ Band) in which the gangs are messes of characters kowtowing to and plotting behind the backs of each other; it pauses for its middle stretch for an unhurried bit of romance and friendship; it seemingly has no consequences for its brief flurries of outlandish violence: men stagger through multiple gunshots and tackle crowds of officers, and Takeuchi’s Kunisada can go about killing folk and get off with a slap on the wrist from the police. When Kunisada and his yakuza buddy (Kenichi Endō) pick up some Korean lounge singers for dates, the girls are both hugely important juxtapositions to the surrounding violence but also nearly mute and personality-less. Kunisada is asked what’s going on at one point, and, y’know, he just kinda grins.
This might make things sound cluttered and fast-paced, but even with a relatively slim runtime – 96 minutes – Rekka is mostly amusingly leisurely. As with a lot of Miike’s yakuza flicks, we witness more of day-to-day dealings – hair dyeing, people going to the bathroom – than we do the street-level action, excepting the clipped conversations between various family leaders during which our camera sits back and distant, making it hard to discern who’s saying what. (Because it hardly matters.) Once you get the tone of the film – or if you go in not expecting it to do much of anything – all of this clicks in a very enjoyable way, making the escalations and eventual ridiculousness of the conclusion well worth the wait.
Gang-member Kunisada’s boss is offed; he swears revenge, and is then unwittingly used to kick off a series of events which are meant to usurp power from certain yakuza families and gather it under another. There are some of the usual habitual proclivities of Miike’s on display – Renji Ishibashi of course shows up as a dirty old man – and although I think the film’s rather over-complicated yakuza dealings are intended as such so that they become a blur, the excessive amount of characters and purported importance of these scenes can be distracting, but I encourage you to follow my experience: brush the movie off, then come back at it, and have your enjoyment levels increased tenfold.