Takashi Miike, the hip, cool but oh-so-disreputable director behind such films as Audition (1999), Visitor Q (2001) and – the still heavily censored in the UK – Ichi The Killer (2001) is a tricky director to pin down – he’s inventive, irreverent, often offensive and very prolific. It’s difficult enough just to play ‘catch up’ with his output, although the last few years have seen his bewildering outpouring of product become slightly less manic. This has meant that some of the films he directed between 1996 and 2003 that had slipped past in the whirlwind of releases are finally seeing the light outside of Japan. Deadly Outlaw: Rekka is one of these, made in 2002 and sandwiched between a plethora of TV, film and video releases. We are promised a cleaned up release for this latest DVD edition but frankly the manic energy and uncertain outcomes makes any claims of pristine source material somewhat redundant. Miike’s skirting between the traditional film and Japan’s low budget V-Cinema makes such distinctions tricky at the best of times – as best indicated by the international acclaim for the straight-to-video Gozu (2003), it’s better to experience the film at its intended low-budget visceral level rather than as some chin-stroking art-house film.
After his boss is killed yakuza Kunisada sets off on a mission of vengeance as he seeks those responsible for the killing. However, he soon finds himself up against both enemies and allies and, as his mind spirals into madness, the final confrontation is going to be both inevitable and brutal. Miike takes no prisoners and does not wait for his viewers to ease into proceedings – rather he offers a blistering array of cinematic tricks to pummel his audience into the film. Despite being made in the 21st century Deadly Outlaw: Rekka is decidedly a product of the sixties and seventies – all washed out stocks, crazy camera angles, jump cuts and anti-heroes. An unholy splicing of cult directors Seijun Suzuki and Kinji Fukusaku, Miike takes the surreal nature of the former and the dynamic realism of the latter to create something that is wholly new – this may well be homage but it is resolutely his own film. The opening ten minutes are a whirlwind ride of crazy jump-cuts, barked out platitudes and outrageous impersonations of Bunta Sagawara in full ‘lean forward with raised eyes’ intensity. Honestly jaw-dropping in drive and innovation the obvious comparison lies with Miike’s own, glossier, Dead or Alive (1999). Like that film, however, there is no way the budget (or the editor, or the viewer come to that) could possibly hope to maintain such a degree of nihilistic exuberance and visceral insanity, Deadly Outlaw: Rekka by necessity pulls back to tell a more familiar, and talky, tale of Yakuza vengeance and betrayal… before letting rip once again for the film’s denouement.
Another seventies element to this movie is its astonishing score, probably one of the finest retro soundtracks you’ll hear outside Kill Bill (2003/4) or re-runs of Jesus Franco’s Vampiros Lesbos (1971) and Jean Rollin’s Frisson de Vampires (1971). The entire score comprises Japanese hard rock pioneers Flower Travellin’ Band’s Satori album from 1971, which perfectly integrates into both the narrative and visual style and is a key element of the film. The film also features band members Joe Yamanaka and Yuya Ichida in cameo roles. Although Deadly Outlaw: Rekka is not one of Miike’s finest, it is still worth your attention. The DVD comes with an interview with Miike, an essay by Tom Mes and notes on the Flower Travellin’ Band.