Deadly Outlaw: Rekka


Director: Takashi Miike

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The soundtrack is the best Miike has ever had, taken from a vintage rock album recorded by Flower Traveling Band. In the cast are the founding band members Joe Yamanaka as the dreadlocked gangster who has gone straight & Yuya Ichida as the gorgeous old oyabun/godfather assassinated in the opening scene. The use of this music from 1971 has the same effect as Tarantino using old surfer music.

There is no character named "Rekka" in Deadly Outlaw: Rekka. The word means Raging Fire. The rekka of the film is "V Cinema" direct-to-video giant Riki Takeuchi, one of the cooler actors Miike works with. This is not his best work, but he's always good at what he does. It was odd that he waddled a bit in his performance like a tired old man; he usually swaggers or stalks, but for whatever reason he decided he wouldn't have a cool walk this time. He also tries to bleech his hair in an early scene, the vanity of it is charming in the midst of so much catastrophe, but it comes out muddy brown inducing one gangster to ask in an alarmed manner, "What happened to your hair!" There are several other amusing little touches that imply a bit of nerdiness to the character of Kunisada (a name borrowed from a Takugawa Era Robin Hood type outlaw; but this Kunisada is no Robin Hood).

Miike worked with actual yakuza on this film. Historically (in the 1960s & 1970s) gangster movies were supported by actual gangsters who funded films, appeared in the background casts, & even starred in some of them. The purpose was to shape a mythology favorable to the yakuza gangs, & it resulted in a generation of young men who after seeing these movies came to the cities from their rural towns to become outlaws, tattoo their bodies, & even lop off the tips of their pinkies as often happened in classic films. The life turned out to be bereft of anything promised by the movies & those duped young men ended up totally unemployable until they got their tattoos lasered off & one of their small toes transplanted to the tip of their pinky. And you know what, if that reality were turned into the first truthful yakuza film ever, it could be an awfully good movie.

In the classic yakuza films there was generally a chivalrous gangster central to the story, a man with a veritable samurai ethos. In the current versions of yakuza-eiga produced for V Cinema, psychosis is permitted of the hero, but at heart his behavior still stems from a twisted nobility rather than criminality or a sociopathic nature which is more likely. Kunisada is typical of this new mythic man who has a belief in his own rebel actions, a refusal to cave in to convention since he knows he's right. Rekka is produced by the son of retired actor/director Noboru Ando, in his youth a yakuza lieutenant for a prostitution & drug lord, & who became a well known if second-string star of several gangster-funded gangster movies of the 60s & 70s. Never the equal of Ken Takakura, but important among the also-rans.

Ando was one of the big liars (or myth-makers) of the time. As hoodlum turned moderately big star in films that pretended to be autobiographical, about his actual life as a yakuza, the reality was that his mediocre films were interchangeable with hundreds just like 'em. Pretending to be factual was his edge, but it was a dull edge.

So Ando is still living in a pretend-past. The literal translation of the Japanese title of this film Jitsuroku Ando Noboru Kyodo-den: Rekka is Noboru Ando's True Outlaw Tales: Raging Fire, & in Japan Rekka was advertised as a true story. Right. I'm just so sure when Ando was a yakuza he knew avengers who destroyed gangster headquarters with rocket launchers.

So the film continues the old tradition of gangsters presenting myths as "facts" about how cool gangsters are. In the 2004 DVD interview Miike can barely restrain his own laughter when going along with the gag that the film is a true story with only a few of his own embellishments, rather than the unutterable fantasy it obvioiusly is. In the USA no attempt was made to market the film in this silly manner, for the success of that hoky ad campaign required an audience who remembered Ando as a star.

The violence is not as non-stop as it is in Dead or Alive, & so it ends up being even more effective. That is not to say the body count isn't extremely high, but we actually get a chance to know several characters between brutal outbreaks. This one comes closer to the quality of a theatrically released film rather than direct to video. Some Miike fans don't want any time wasted on story or character & so prefer crappier films like Dead or Alive, but Miike himself tries not to repeat himself too many times, much as some of his fans wish he would only do the expected.

The story is simple enough, & simplicity is an improvement over Miike's usual preference for pointless convoluted ornateness not even worth unweaving to figure out what the heck's going on. Rekka tells a pretty clear tale.

In the opening sequence an aging oyabun (godfather) is killed. The old coot (gorgeously played by Yuya Ichida) is pretty hard to kill & his demise is heroic as all hell, even though the cherry on top is a dumb joke when the assassin ends up stuck with the oyabun's severed hands as a strangling necktie.

The rival gang is immediately petitioned for a truce, but Kunisada always in the company of his devoted friend (Kenichi Endo from Visitor Q) is singlemindedly set on revenge. When Kunisada is covertly given permission to kill the rival gang's boss "for balance," he is grateful to be chosen for the job. What he doesn't know is that lieutenants for both gangs have colluded to assassinate each others' godfathers so that a younger generation could take over, & the final "balance" of the plan will be to sacrifice Kunisada. Everyone realizes too late Kunisada won't be easily sacrificed.

Miike likes to pull stunts & this time vengeance by rocket launcher is the big one. His smaller stunt is ending a few scenes with blood-spatters on the camera lens; since most directors try to keep the lens clean, Miike purposely goes against the grain first with little splatters then with the entire lens deluged. As stunts go it's not much, but I liked it.

Supporting cast includes some good people, such as Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba in a cameo as a gang boss, & Tetsuro Tamba in a rather more significant role spewing warrior platitudes. For story & action Deadly Outlaw Rekka scores pretty highly, though in the final analysis it's nevertheless a film of small consequence.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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