Review: Outlaw: Kill! (1969)

Between 1968 and 1969, Nikkatsu put out six films in the Outlaw Gangster series: VIP, VIP OutlawKillPoster2, Heartless, Goro the Assassin, Black Dagger, and in the opening months of 1969, Kill! A great deal of credit must go to Arrow for resurrecting this more-or-less forgotten series after a showing at an Italian film festival in the mid-2000s. I’ve lamented before that there’s very little English language information on the series, from sketchy IMDB entries to a barren Wikipedia page, even when investigated in Japanese. To be launched from almost complete obscurity to a premium Blu-ray collection loaded with extras from Japanese film scholars is impressive.

In this final instalment of the series, Keiichi Ozawa is once again the director in charge, having first got involved with VIP 2. Tetsuya Watari reprises his role as the ex-yakuza Goro ‘the Assassin’. I’ve enjoyed dipping in and out of the series and Watari has grown on me as the yakuza with a heart of gold, the kind of character archetype I’m so fond of from SEGA’s Yakuza games – as I’ve noted before, Watari himself voices a character in the games, a mentor figure to protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. Like the other Outlaw films, it’s a slightly idiosyncratic mix of earlier “ninkyo eiga” about a chivalrous gangster hero mixed with the brutality and reality of later “jidaigeki” movies that more accurately depict contemporary organised crime.

Five films in, and particularly after watching Black Dagger and finding it a fairly weak entry in the series, gonzo casting decisions aside, I was cautious about Kill! Would the series go out with a bang, or a whimper? Thankfully the answer is that while Kill! may not be the strongest Outlaw film it’s certainly one of the better ones, with the admittedly now-familiar plot of Goro getting caught up in yet another struggle between rival yakuza groups building to one of the best fights in all six films. It’s hard to say whether it seems Ozawa and the cast knew this would be their last outing, as it doesn’t end the series any more definitively than any of the other films, but it feels like it has a more elegiac tone, a swansong for this noble gangster – take, for example, Matsubara’s return as yet another potential love interest. Previous films seemed committed to shoehorning her in as Goro’s love interest but this time around, despite an obviously similar place in the movie’s structure, she isn’t flinging herself at him for no reason. Even more so than before, Goro is very much alone.

When his attempts to stay out of the gang war inevitably fail and Goro comes out for vengeance, the finale once again takes place in a nightclub, harking back to the finale of the original Outlaw VIP. The original film took place in the mid-1950s, though, and by Kill! the series seems to have moved squarely into the ‘60s. The music, the fashion, and the tone of the club, its dancers, and its live band have all completely changed. When the old-fashioned yakuza villains order the manager to have the band play some ‘oldies’, what follows feels like a fusion of enka and the music of the late 1960s. The final battle is staged against this backdrop, with some stylish shots including a look down through the glass dance floor at Goro and his opponents tumbling over multicoloured lighting rigs and crashing into the back rooms of the club.

Neither this final movie, hewing so closely as it does to the formula established by its predecessors, nor the Outlaw series as a whole is likely to go down as forgotten classic, rediscovered in the age of BluRay and cinephile collectors. It’s a fascinating look back into a very particular era of Japanese cinema, though, and well worth investigating for any yakuza movie fans or film history buffs. As for me, I’m hoping to see more from Watari in the future; in particular, his collaborations with one of my favourite Japanese directors, Kinji Fukasaku, in films like Graveyard of Honor.

Outlaw: Kill! / 無頼 殺せ (Burai Barase)

Director: Keiichi Ozawa

Japanese Release Date: 1969

Version Watched: 86 min, Arrow Video release

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