It’s better than a lot of Miike’s similar gangster films, but that doesn’t mean Deadly Outlaw: Rekka is more exciting
“Who gives a shit what happens.”
You may be like me and might have automatically assumed that Rekka is the name of Riki Takeuchi’s deadly outlaw character. It’s a bit like Ichi the Killer where you assume Tadanobu Asano’s character is called Ichi when he in fact is named Kakihara. No, instead rekka is a Japanese word meaning ‘raging fire’, a quality Takeuchi’s character Kunisada is meant to have.
Kunisada is a young yakuza serving time when he hears his father, the leader of their gang the Sanada Group, has been murdered by their rivals, the Otaki Group. Fuelled with rage, Kunisada vows vengeance against those who did so, with his best friend Shimatomi (Endo Kenichi) in tow. What he doesn’t know is that both gangs were conspiring with one another to kill the others’ bosses, and Kunisada has put himself in the crossfire.
This entry in Takashi Miike’s ludicrously long filmography at first reminds you of something like Dead or Alive. The opening is frenetic and violent culminating in the scenes which set up the story, of the head of the Sanada family being murdered (followed by a wonderfully dumb sight gag of the man’s severed hands still wrapped around his killer’s neck. It’s a very silly way to start the film, but it’s also packed with violence and that high-speed rock-and-roll footage (set to the incredible album Satori by Flower Travellin’ Band), and that suggests a certain tone going forward.
However, this is not quite the case. After these scenes, everything calms down quite substantially. Miike instead decides to let the story and plot play out, leading us deeper into the world and letting us get to know Kunisada and Shimatomi better. We’re given time to explore the strange relationship between the crime families, and this is one of the movie’s biggest strengths: it has a patience not normally seen in these kinds of films and it gives us a lot of breathing room between moments showing us dudes getting the shit kicked out of them.
Endo plays a very likeable character, all things considered, and his and Takeuchi’s chemistry is limited but what’s there is good. There’s some entertainment to be had watching the two of them together (and the two Korean club singers they pick up), and it’s almost as much fun as watching the two gangs conspire. The guys playing the bosses – Renji Ishibashi, Tetsuro Tamba, and even Sonny Chiba makes a cameo appearance – are all pretty deplorable and thus fun to watch. But still, throughout this movie, something feels lacking.
This might be because it doesn’t really live up to its promises of rampage and carnage. It picks up a bit in the final act and we eventually get to see some of the more outlandish promises, such as Kunisada picking up a rocket launcher and blasting people away, but those moments are too few and far between for those of us who picked up this movie to watch V-cinema king Takeuchi explode his way through the yakuza. There are those who will praise it for its simple story and dedication to stick to one plot and those who will bemoan it for its lack of people getting sliced up. I was somewhere in the middle. You can’t deny that it’s technically better than a movie like Dead or Alive, but sometimes you just don’t want better.
Verdict: the soundtrack is great and the movie isn’t bad, but if you’re looking for full-on Miike madness, you might be in the wrong place
The Asian Cinema Critic’s Patented Ratings System
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Violence: Not as much as you’d expect
Quality of violence: Top-notch.
Body count: 20-something. Still not a bad number, really
Mr Su: Whatever you do, don’t call him that
Deadly Outlaw: Rekka (2002)
Also known as: 実録・安藤昇侠道伝 烈火, “Noboru Ando’s True Outlaw Tales: Raging Fire”
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Shigenori Takechi
Riki Takeuchi – Kunisada
Kenichi Endo – Shimatomi
Ryosuke Miki – Mr Su.
Yamaguchi Yoshiyuki – Tabata
Renji Ishibashi – Hijikata
Tetsuro Tamba – Sanada Boss
Rikiya Yasuoka – Kugihara
Joe Yamanaka – Hiraoka
Sonny Chiba – Cameo as Sanada boss
Lily – Kunisada’s Godmother
Other films like this: Most of Miike’s 2002 ouput, really