"...if you're looking for a fairly straight forward Yakuza crime drama with a few unexpected and amusing twists, this is the movie for you".
Deadly Outlaw Rekka (2002)
AKA: Violent Fire
Director: Takashi Miike
Producer: Tsuneo Seto
Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Ryosuke Miki, Kenichi Endo, Mika Katsumura, Sonny Chiba, Yuya Uchida, Tetsuro Tamba, Miho Nomoto (Nomoto Miho), Rikiya Yasuoka
Running Time: 96 min.
Plot: Following the death of his boss, Kunisada embarks upon a journey of revenge against the rival gang who ordered the hit. However, Kunisada then uncovers the truth behind shady deals that exist within his very own clan...
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JESSE'S REVIEW: Let me just start out by saying that this film is not for all tastes. Even if you are a huge fan of new Asian cinema such as myself, you still might find this film very slow and not very interesting at all. Rekka isn't even regarded highly by other Miike fans, so before you decide to rent or watch this movie keep that in mind. Deadly Outlaw Rekka is your average Yakuza drama, mixed in with the typical Miike weirdness and a stunning finale that makes up for the parts in the film that might seem a bit unnecessary.
Riki Takeuchi of DOA fame stars as Kunisada, a Japanese/Korean crime lord who we see at the beginning of the film being interrogated, while a group of hired killers assassinate his father, the current leader of the Yakuza in which he belongs to. After that incident, Kunisada vows to take revenge on those who paid the assassins to murder his father, and on the assassins themselves.
The first hour or so of the film shows Kunisada and his closest friend, played by Kenichi Endo (Azumi, Visitor Q), trying to figure out who exactly had his father murdered and why. All the while, the heads of the other Yakuza form an uneasy alliance, by which they decide that Kunisada himself is to be taken out. What follows is a lot of treachery, killing, and a couple of big explosions here and there, until Kunisada and his pal find out their fate as we as an audience learn what their possible purpose may or may not be.
I first heard about this film a few months ago, while frequenting one of the many film forums that I visit (can't remember which specific site it was), and being the semi-Takashi Miike fan that I was, took note of it and stored it in my memory for later use. Deadly Outlaw Rekka didn't sound like anything to get truly excited about, but when I saw it at the video store I knew I had to at least check it out, just because it was directed by the "Rabid Dog of Japanese Cinema", Takashi Miike.
My initial impression while first viewing the first 10 minutes or so was that it was one hell of an intro, but soon after everything would come to a screeching halt and move along at a snail's pace (which is something fairly normal to expect if you've seen a few of Miike's other films, such as the previously mentioned DOA). While the film isn't that tedious, it does require a bit of patience to fully appreciate it and enjoy it for what it is. At least for the first 65 minutes or so.
I said earlier that this was a typical Yakuza drama for the most part, and though I haven't seen many Yakuza films yet, one can sense a general feel of ordinariness while viewing this piece of cinema. But I don't mean that in a bad way whatsoever. Through this typicality, you are able to sympathize for the two leads and find out what really makes Kunisada do the things that he does.
I still would have liked to have seen a 10 minute flashback detailing the main character's past and how he got started into the Yakuza and so on, if only for us to get a more fully fleshed out portrait of him. It is pretty difficult to say why exactly the film is so intriguing. From most of the films i've seen that were directed by Takashi Miike, I would overall consider him a creative genius but not necessarily the master storyteller that he is often made out to be.
From viewing Rekka, one may not be instantly drawn to what all is going on, but they will most likely be able to appreciate the director's earnest attempt to paint a colorful picture (or maybe not so colorful at times) of what it means to be a professional criminal in Japan. What really makes this movie worth watching is the earnest and lively performance by Takeuchi as the lead, and its slow build-up to an insane and very memorable finale. Once Kunisada finds out exactly who all is trying to have him terminated, he and Kenichi Endo's character set out to destroy the Yakuzas that they belong to (and really each entire Yakuza family), destroying half of Japan along the way with a nifty Chinese rocket launcher by his side.
Although Kunisada is portrayed as a mildly crazy being with a very hot temper, he is also shown to have some good qualities that enables the audience to at least partly care for him as he wreaks havoc on those that deserve it in his eyes. One of those qualities that Kunisada embodies is honor. Kunisada is very loyal to the Yakuza that he is a part of, and will stop at nothing to find those that brought harm onto his father that he so loved and respected.
There is a very touching scene about 30 minutes into the film in which Kunisada single-handedly beats an entire garage full of men senseless with a crowbar, after which his girlfriend (played by Miho Nomoto) comes from behind and puts her arms around him, helping to calm her lover down and showing that even a "monster" such as him does have redeeming characteristics. Kunisada accepts the embrace of his girl and you can tell by the look in his eyes that he desperately is searching for a real meaning behind what is happening in his fucked up life.
Other famous Japanese actors star in supporting roles, such as Sonny Chiba and Yuya Ichida, who was one of the founding members of the groundbreaking Flower Traveling Band, whose 30 year old album "Satori" provides the soundtrack to the film. And as I stated before, even if you find yourself the least bit bored or disinterested while watching Deadly Outlaw Rekka, the last 20 minutes is sure to delight. I won't spoil it for you, but if you love big ass explosions and big ass guns, then you'll definitely get a kick out of the climax of the film. So if you're looking for a fairly straight forward Yakuza crime drama with a few unexpected and amusing twists, this is the movie for you. And if for nothing else, see it for the electrifying performance by the lead character, played by Riki Takeuchi.
JESSE'S RATING: 8/10