Fans of Miike Takashi rejoice. After an eight year absence, his yakuza revenge drama Deadly Outlaw: Rekka has reached our shores, with much of the chaos for which the Japanese auteur is famed. Deadly Outlaw: Rekka (or Deadly Outlaw: Raging Fire) is a tongue-in-cheek and apocryphal tale of Noburo Ando, a Tokyo yakuza turned B movie actor. The film saw Takashi take the helm of a production involving Ando’s son (and filmmaker) Akira, as well as former yakuza Shigenori Takechi (writer) and Tsuneo Seto (producer). Dryly joking about the movie, Takashi even claims that while it exaggerates some of the details, the “spirit” of the story remains true. But the viewer will have to decide how literally to take the celluloid insanity, which appears to have more in familiar with Takashi’s other projects than any sort of potted anecdote.
There is little plot to describe in Deadly Outlaw. Meet Kunisada (in a great turn by Takashi regular Rika Takuechi), a yakuza detained by cops as his beloved boss is murdered by a pair of top hit men that were hired by a rival clan. Back on the streets and brooding for revenge, bloodlust spills out of Kunisada as he stomps the streets of Tokyo with his “brother” (played by Kenichi Endo). Though his gang are seeking a truce, Kunisada wants nothing more than the complete obliteration of his enemies, an uncompromising stance that first leads him into being a willing pawn and, eventually, at war with his allies.
A superb feature of the film is its music, from early Japanese metal band The Flower Travellin’ Band. Their 1971 album Satori forms the soundtrack and is a rare occasion when the film’s score has been composed before the film, another instance being the use of The Pillows indie tones in Gainax anime FLCL. Like the Gainax series, the band’s prescient metal sounds are a perfect choice, as their quirky timing and howling meshes with the unpredictable violence. Two of the principle band members, Yuya Uchida and Joe Yamanaka (who have also appeared in several films down the decades), even turn in handsome cameos as the assassinated father figure and as a sage-like yakuza turned bar owner respectively.
Collaboration between Takashi and others is obvious, as Deadly Outlaw seems much more accessible next to many of his other films. Where Takashi’s can defy chronological narratives (such as Audition’s unexpected gear change), the plot here is overwhelmingly straightforward. Similarly, bloodshed peppers the entire film, but can hardly be compared to the director’s look at the sexualisation of violence in Ichi the Killer (no blood and cum spatters in the same breath). But these differences may be seen as a refreshing change from Takashi’s usual work, certainly making for easier viewing. Takashi’s preoccupation with the taboo has not always resulted in great things. The 2001 dissection of the family unit in Visitor Q (also starring Endo), proves that scene after scene of boundary pushing can still result in fairly banal cinema. In Deadly Outlaw, Takashi’s taste for the madcap still appears; choppy edits in a scene, Sonny Chiba’s cameo as a commentating gang boss guitar player, a hit man with the amputated hands of his victim left grasping his neck, or a killer returning to a room full of dead bodies to use the vending machine. These silly signatures (including a rocket launcher that destroys entire buildings in central Tokyo) turns a conventional B movie into a much more entertaining film.
Ultimately, the bravado of Takeuchi’s campy performance maintains the charm of Deadly Outlaw. A gurning chin and wide-open eyes seem to evoke memories of Jacky Cheung’s frustrated characters in John Woo’s Bullet in the Head and Wong Kar-Wai’s Days of Being Wild. Whether he’s letting down his girlfriend or cracking a mob member’s head with a crowbar, Takeuchi never fails to be charismatic. Wooden acting from much of the supporting cast, including Endo, is less impressive, but not out of place with this sort of corny but self-aware gangster movie homage. Either way, you are likely to be rooting for Takeuchi and Endo by the end of the film.
I suspect Takashi fans will have ordered Deadly Outlaw long ago, as this DVD sees it armed with some interviews with the director and a booklet with essay on the film. But its light-hearted spirit makes it worth checking out for any gangster film fan or anyone in search of something a little different.