J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, March 09, 2018

The Outsider: Jared Leto, Yakuza

Sorry, you can’t watch Kill Bill anymore. It is basically Lady Snowblood remade with the lily-white Uma Thurman, who kills a bunch of Asians in her quest for revenge against David Carradine, who made his career through racial appropriation on the Kung Fu TV series. Seriously, if this Jared Leto Yakuza film is as problematic as critics are making it out to be then Tarantino’s entire Weinstein-produced body of work should be absolutely radioactive. However, if you can think for yourself you will probably find the objections are dubious at best when Martin Zandvliet’s The Outsider (trailer here) premieres today on Netflix.

The film itself is pretty straight forward. Nick Lowell is a former American GI in post-war Japan, who saves the life of Kiyoshi, a Yakuza getting the snot beat out of him in a prison dominated by an antagonistic clan. When Lowell helps him reconnect with his clan, Kiyoshi returns the favor, arranging his early release. Suddenly, Lowell is on the Yakuza fast-track and finally starts to feel like he belongs to something, despite the constant “gaijin” taunts from their main rival.

Of course, as soon as Lowell meets Kiyoshi’s sister Miyu, we can see they will be trouble for each other. However, it is not Kiyoshi Lowell should worry about, but rather her abusive former lover, one of Lowell’s new Yakuza brothers, who has been acting a bit squirrely lately.

Essentially, The Outsider is a stylish exploitation film, much like many 100% racially-pure Japanese Yakuza films. They can’t all be masterpieces like Shinoda’s Pale Flower, but a lot of them happen to be good fun. In this case, cinematographer Camilla Hjelm gives the film an uber-Michael Mann sheen, while Zandvliet keeps it strutting along like an ultra-hip Yakuza slinking through the streets of Shinjuku.

The cast, which is nearly entirely Japanese, is also quite strong. As Lowell, Leto broods like nobody’s business. Tadanobu Asano super-cool but also grizzled and grounded as Kiyoshi, while Shioli Kutsuna’s portrayal of Miyu is surprisingly nuanced and psychologically complex. Plus, Kippei Shina chews all kinds of scenery as Lowell’s slimy, back-stabbing Yakuza brother.

To understand the critical group-think demonizing this film, you need to be familiar with the euphemistically titled “Own Voices” movement, which argues only members from within a specific racial, ethnic, or religious group can create credible characters with such an identity. For whites to try to write from the perspective of other ethnicities is in itself an act of cultural appropriation. Of course, if this movement is ultimately successful, it would racially segregate film and literature. Whites will write about whites, exclusively, and African Americans will write about African Americans—and never shall they co-mingle. This is the absolute antithesis of progressive culture, but it illustrates just how fascistic the Social Justice Warriors have become.

This is the current climate of intolerance The Outsider has been released into. It is not nearly as good as Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage and Outrage Beyond, but it is an entertaining crime film that hits a fair number of the Yakuza bases. Recommended for rational film viewers (if there are any left out there) who enjoy gangster skullduggery, The Outsider is now streaming on Netflix and it also opens theatrically today (3/9) at the Laemmle Monica Film Center.

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