Set in 1950s Osaka, The Outsider follows a captured American soldier (Jared Leto) who joins the ranks of the Yakuza, earning their respect whilst going deeper into Japan’s criminal underworld. The Netflix release features an almost entirely Japanese cast and 90% of the movie’s dialogue is in Japanese which does enhance the credibility of the film and how much I can buy into it. Now, contrary to some of the disastrous reviews out there I do think it is an ok movie, but unfortunately it isn’t the epic Yakuza thriller I believed it was going to be. The plot progresses at a very slow pace, there isn’t a tonne of dialogue, and it feels like it’s around 2 and a half hours long… but not in an entirely bad way. The pace sets the tone excellently early on and it only gets darker and slightly more suspenseful with time. Many of the creative choices in here are double-edged swords, there are good and not-so-good outcomes to many decisions and that’s the nature of much of the movie.
The movie approaches storytelling interestingly as there is a plot that covers most of the movies runtime but that story is being told second to Nick’s (Leto) journey in the beginning. Almost the entire movie is centred around Nick’s experiences within the Yakuza as he earns their respect with the underlying plot developing in the background. For the entire first act there isn’t much of a core story developing, it’s heavily focused on setting up Nick and the figures within the Yakuza and getting all of the relationships established. As time goes on the main plot begins to gain traction and form around Nick to where his personal story is tied directly to it by the third act. The problem with the first act is that Nick on his own isn’t that interesting of a protagonist. We don’t know a lot about his past and are thrown into the Yakuza just as quickly as he is so there isn’t much time to connect with him initially. But as the film starts to focus on his story in combination with the inner workings of the Yakuza and how he adjusts to their morals and values that’s when his character gets a little more intriguing. Once the Yakuza’s family warfare story becomes front and centre through the second and third acts I did find myself enjoying it much more and becoming invested in the bigger picture.
What I’m getting at here is that Leto’s protagonist may get to a point in the film where he is an actually intriguing character but he is not able to hold many scenes on his own, thus rendering him an overall subpar protagonist. Leto himself is decent in the role, his character is very quiet, crass, and doesn’t show a whole range of emotion though, so he doesn’t have a lot to work with but does what he can to bring something to the film. It really is the extended Japanese cast that make the last two thirds of the movie so enjoyable as they bring a lot of weight to many of the scenes focusing heavily on the Yakuza’s inner wars. There are also quite a few engaging Japanese dialogue sequences in here that a quite strong and sell the intensity and severity of later events really well. Of the Japanese cast the standouts are Tadanobu Asano who plays Kiyoshi, Kippei Shina who plays Orochi, and Shioli Kutsuna who plays Miyu. Without the presence of these characters especially there wouldn’t have been many options in here to command the screen when Leto couldn’t and the film would have been a complete bore. It does reach boring point a few times, more-so in the first half or so but that’s where the limited dialogue approach sometimes doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s powerful when what is going on in the scene is crucial to the story or a character’s development but other times when there’s not much going on it drags.
I would have liked there to be a bit more action in here, I do understand though that the pace and character-centric story doesn’t call for a massive action sequence. It does get bloody but it’s never unnecessarily bloody, it’s all there to add to the Yakuza as a criminal organisation and the way they go about their business in a unique manner. So, in the end I wouldn’t suggest this movie to someone saying they’ll love it because it is very slow and takes a while to really get going, so it’s hard to know how people will respond to it. But I can say that the latter two thirds are definitely better structured than the first and pretty enjoyable so there are good moments. But as much as I enjoyed parts of the movie it’s very forgettable and I probably won’t remember much of it in a few weeks.