Continuing on with Takashi Miike’s obsession over Yakuza culture, in 2002 he made Deadly Outlaw Rekka, one of the more obscure films to be released by Miike in his nearly 30-year long career, and also one of his more low-budget affairs. It is commonly known by two names: either Deadly Outlaw Rekka, or Violent Fire. Thematically, Deadly Outlaw Rekka doesn’t contain anything we haven’t seen before in his previous movies, especially the first Dead Or Alive film, to which this film feels like a spiritual sequel to. Even the story beats themselves are very similar, although Deadly Outlaw Rekka is noticeably less sickeningly perverse than Dead Or Alive. Deadly Outlaw Rekka also marks a return of many actors whom had previously worked with Takashi Miike; most notably Riki Takeuchi, Ken’ichi Endo, Tetsuro Tanba, and Renji Isibashi, all returning in type-cast roles that we’ve seen them in before in Dead Or Alive. Oddly enough, this film also stars 1970’s Martial Arts star Sonny Chiba in a bizarre non-martial-art-sy role. However, what’s most notable about Deadly Outlaw Rekka in comparison to his previous Yakuza films, is the inclusion of the Flower Travellin’ Band, a Japanese psychedelic rock band from the 1960s. Not only is their album Satori featured heavily in the movie, but the film stars lead singer Joe Yamanaka and band producer Yuya Uchida in prominent roles as Yakuza bosses. Thus, Deadly Outlaw Rekka does somewhat stand out against Takashi Miike’s repertoire because of the use of Flower Travellin’ Band within the film and, whilst not confirmed, it is evidential that Deadly Outlaw Rekka was a film made entirely because of Takashi Miike’s fondness for Flower Travellin’ Band, and specifically the album Satori.
To begin with, the story itself sounds like a very simple affair: The Sanada family chief (Yuya Uchida) is assassinated, so his protégé Kunisada (Riki Takeuchi) goes on a mission with his best friend (Ken’ichi Endo) to avenge Sanada’s death, as well as keeping the leaders of the Yakuza families happy. However, this is a Takashi Miike film, so although the plot sounds very simple, there’s a lot of side-plots and a whole over-arching plot that really confuse the narrative, as well as a lot of silly perverted scenes which come out of nowhere. What sounds like a simple open and shut story about revenge and violence is actually an opera of Yakuza politics: despite Kunisada being the titular “Deadly Outlaw Rekka”, nearly half of the movie is taken up by Yakuza higher-ups discussing exposition without context to back it up. Once in a while you’ll get a bit of human drama from Kunisada and his best-friend, and those scenes really stand out as they show the human drama elements that Takashi Miike is famous for, but a lot of the time is dedicated to Yakuzas politicking over and over with the discussing of family hierarchy, assassination plans and peace brokering, which makes for very long, drawn out sequences that aren’t enjoyable. Deadly Outlaw Rekka doesn’t play to Takashi Miike’s strengths as a director: character drama. Takashi Miike thrives in films which focus on character drama, but Deadly Outlaw Rekka is more world-building than character building, and the movie definitely suffers because of it. It needed more character moments, of which there are only a fleeting amount of during the entire runtime. It would have made the story and struggle of Kunisada much more powerful to experience. Although, saying this, the ending to Deadly Outlaw Rekka is much more on form for Takashi Miike, and it’s very reminiscent of the crazy endings to the Dead Or Alive series of films. The only drawback to such a bizarre and out-of-left-field ending is the fact that the film leading up to it just isn’t as gripping as it could be.
As for the acting, every actor feels like they were type-cast into the role, because it genuinely fits the actors: Riki Takeuchi chews the scenery with his performance as the mad and deadly Kunisada, even introducing some atonal comedy to serious scenes through his mad facial expressions. Ken’ichi Endo is quite heart-warming as Kunisada’s best friend, reminiscent of his roles in Ley Lines, The Happiness Of The Katakuris and Dead Or Alive 2: Birds, and it fits his acting style perfectly. Renji Ichibasi returns as a perverted villain, a role that he has perfected over the years in Dead Or Alive, Audition and Gozu. Even Yuya Uchida and Joe Yamanaka give very down to earth performances despite them being rock stars and not actors. The only actor who is underwhelming in their performance is Tetsuro Tanba, and that’s because he was criminally under-used. Tetsuro Tanba is an amazing actor, but in this film, he only appears in three scenes, delivers a handful of dialogue, and doesn’t move from one spot. What a waste of a great actor, because he could have replaced one of the yakuza bosses and added a hell of a lot more punch to the dialogue. Despite this, the acting is serviceable, and serviceably ‘Takashi Miike’ in it mixture of strange-ness and seriousness.
Technically, Deadly Outlaw Rekka is noticeably more low-budget than his previous yakuza films. There’s a lack of practical effects, lack of non-organic lighting, lack of non-Flower Travellin’ Band music, meaning that most of the film plays out in silence, and the camera is of a noticeably lower quality than his previous films. However, the film makes up for its lack of budget by delivering a ‘Kitchen Sink’ style of film-making, which definitely works in relation to the film’s down-to-earth plot. There is one very odd thing about the film that spoils the immersion somewhat: the purposeful inclusion of blood ‘splatters’ that cover the camera during violent scenes. Its very evidential that this splattering was not accidental, as one scene specifically has a character shoot the camera resulting in a coating of blood a la the famous 007 intro where Bond shoot the camera. It breaks the fourth wall, but as it’s the only time that it happens, is breaks the immersion and personally left me confused. Did he shoot me? Am I a character in this world, and am I dead? It makes little sense in relation to the rest of the film because the fourth wall is firmly planted aside from those two scenes.
In conclusion, Deadly Outlaw Rekka is good, but not great, especially in comparison to Takashi Miike’s other yakuza films such as Ley Lines and Dead Or Alive 2: Birds which were leagues better than Deadly Outlaw Rekka. However, I’ll still give a tentative recommendation if you’re a fan of Takashi Miike’s work. If not, then this film can be left out in favor of his greater films. One thing that did leave an impression on me about this film, however, is Flower Travellin’ Band. I had never heard any of their music before watching Deadly Outlaw Rekka, and in my opinion, its really good. Check out the album Satori by Flower Travellin’ Band if you haven’t.
As for the film, it’s quit so-so.