I watched another Yakuza-based film the other day. This one was on Netflix. The Outsider. It’s “A Netflix Film,” whatever that means.
The first 3/5ths of it is good enough. Jared Leto plays ex-American soldier Nick Lowell in a prison in post-war Japan. We don’t know why he’s in there. Nor does it matter. You can tell he’s a rough trade.
While inside, he saves the life of a man (Kiyoshi) from an assassination attempt by a rival Yakuza faction. Later he and Nick wind up in the same prison cell. Kiyoshi proposes a plan for breaking out of there but it requires a suicide attempt by Kiyoshi and Nick will have to make sure he doesn’t die and that the guards come to their assistance.
The how’s and why’s of how this all is worked out are glossed over, the first major flaw of this film, but we can easily leave this behind us as it's just a way to move on post-prison. Kiyoshi and Nick are now becoming trusted buds. Kiyoshi offers the American a job with his Yakuza gang and Nick readily accepts.
Nick is certainly the “outsider.” But with the contribution of a finger or two (due to a botched robbery he was involved in), he begins to gain the trust of the Yakuza leaders. Eventually Nick is made a full brother.
The other large flaw in the movie is the tired plot element of the forbidden woman. Supposedly those in the Yakuza (at least at the soldier level) cannot have regular families, thus Kiyoshi’s beautiful sister is off limits to Nick, although that stops neither of them. Because this plot point actually does not touch on one or two of the usual cliches, you can sort of let it fade into the background. But it's a definite warning sign that the good writers have likely all committed Seppuku and the back-up team has moved in.
The movie drifts from minor job to minor job for Nick. There is no back story for his character so he drifts more and more into the realm of being nothing more than a sociopath. That’s fine, I guess, but I don’t know if that’s what the filmmakers intended. But the absence of anything else leaves Nick as a hollow character
The true excellence of the movie is contained in the performance of Tadanobu Asano as Kiyoshi. He’s 100% believable as he follows the unique design of allowing an outsider inside the Yakuza. But Kiyoshi trusts Nick implicitly
And then the movie turns into some of the worst aspects of The Godfather movies. There is an ongoing rivalry between the clan that Nick is a part of and a nearby one in Osaka. The Osaka clan is proposing some kind of merger or cooperation in investing in some new industry (such as electronics). But the boss doesn’t trust the Osaka clan and probably with good reason. But we’ll never know. Nick’s clan leader is too old-fashioned for the kind of plan offered by the Osaka leader even if this leader was being genuine.
And that’s all well and good. It gives a chance to show that Nick was not only a loyal “outsider,” he was more loyal than at least a third of his own clan. The movie finally shoots itself in the foot in the closing “High Noon-ish” scene where Nick’s clan leader agrees to meet that Osaka clan leader at a “neutral” site suggested by the Osaka clan. It’s all very dumb and stupid how this plays out. Nick’s clan walks directly into a trap without a thought that there might even be a trap. The movie has a lot about it that was intelligent but it gave it all away in this final scene.
Or nearly final seen. They had to set of a sequel, which they did. But having killed off all the compelling characters, let’s hope they just quit after one.
Still, with those caveats noted, this isn’t a half-bad movie. It is at least something watchable in what is more and more becoming the barren wasteland of Netflix. A read an article the other that noted that Netflix was becoming the dumping ground for the equivalent of “direct to video” movies that otherwise couldn’t make it in the theatre. Finding anything good to watch is becoming more difficult as Netflix has obviously gone the route of “quantity” over “quality.”