Friday, March 4, 2011

The Performer

Outrage (2009)/ Kitano Takeshi

Kitano is sometimes a circus comedian, sometimes a yakuza gangster. The eventual ambitions of the two vocations vary a great deal: the first makes people laugh, the second kills them. But the method(s) they employ to reach that end are very similar – both of them are primal, direct and confrontational. The practitioners of circus-comedy or yakuza-crime don’t precisely employ subtlety; the success of their performance depends on how much they overwhelm their audiences. As such, there is an element of the bizarre in both, of a certain type of outlandishness that can bludgeon its receiver into submission. Both are also marked by a pressing need to project a particular effortlessness in their performance, regardless of how strictly they have to adhere to a specific list of rituals to sustain the vitality of their performance. It is in these zones of overlapping between crime and comedy that Kitano’s filmography lies. A lot of viewers misunderstand him as a director of unrestrained violence, but that’s only a critical cliché, and one that obscures more than it reveals. He is essentially a director of performance, and as such, likes to put on a show all the time. Therefore, much like anyone else with a thing for showiness ( like the comedienne or the criminal), his first target is to elicit a response; he doesn’t care if it is a loud guffaw or an extended grimace as long as he provokes some sort of a reaction. He is vulgar, because he is gunning straight for the most pedantic of human tendencies, i.e. to enjoy humour or perversely, enjoy violence. In Outrage, violence is funny precisely because it is so exaggerated. It assumes the form of a vaudevillian, Grand Guignol performance – with chopsticks piercing ear-cavities, dental drills ravaging through disagreeable mouths and necks getting snapped. Like the circus comedian or the yakuza gangster, Kitano’s idea of cinema is to batter the audience into immediate capitulation, even while feigning decency through it all. Therefore, the images of a Kitano film are always very strong and provocative, and all of them pass by with great urgency (even when characters stand on beaches, they await a shootout). Which is why, Takeshi’s is the most prototypical Kitano film (imagery at varying levels of vulgarity) that passes by quickly, and Zatoichi (except the ending) is the least. With Kitano, crime and comedy are no longer acts of any implicit moral value – so there is no immediately evident difference between killing people and making them laugh. Both are just performances, meant to be carried out at amplified levels of intensity. Outrage is actually the best Kitano film title, because it so briefly sums up what each Kitano film is. Crime and comedy are interchangeable quantities in a Kitano film, because he shoots his crime like others shoot their comedy, and he shoots his comedy like others shoot their crime.

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