The Outsider (2018)

  • Time: 120 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Mystery
  • Director: Martin Zandvliet
  • Cast: Jared Leto, Tadanobu Asano, Kippei Shîna


An epic set in post-WWII Japan and centered on an American former G.I. who joins the yakuza.

One comment

  • The issue with The Outsider is not to do with Jared Leto, though he is part of it, nor does it have to do with the fact that Leto is playing an American who becomes a member of the Japanese yakuza. No, the main problem that plagues The Outsider, directed by Danish filmmaker Martin Zandvliet, is simply that it is arguably one of the most tedious yakuza films ever made.

    Given its 1950s setting, Zandvliet and screenwriters John Linson and Andrew Baldwin could have explored the shifting relations between the U.S. and Japan when, in the aftermath of WWII, Japan was beginning to reshape itself as a superpower. There are enough foundational elements in the Godfather-style narrative to support that subtext without sacrificing the tropes of the genre or turning the film into an outright history lesson. Yet the filmmakers choose the path of least resistance, instead delivering an impressively homogenous and generic version of Japan, offering rote scenes of kabuki theatre, sumo wrestling, traditional tea ceremonies, and violence perpetrated by sleekly suited men who could have served as style inspirations for The Matrix’s Agent Smith or John Wick.

    The film begins in a bleak Japanese prison where Leto’s Nick Lowell has been serving time for reasons never made known. There he saves Kiyoshi (a charismatic Tadanobu Asano) from being hanged and, in return for Nick’s kindness and help in his escape, Kiyoshi brings him into his gangland family. Nick proves his value and loyalty by whacking an American businessman in the head with a manual typewriter, smashing a glass against the head of a rival gang member, and performing the time-honoured ritual of slicing off his own fingers in atonement for an error. He also finds the time to fall in love with Kiyoshi’s sister (the stunning Shioli Kutsuna), who once dated Orochi (Kippei Shîna), a rival gang member who isn’t exactly too welcoming of Nick. One would think that there would be dramatic mileage out of the film’s tangled web of relationships, but whatever existing conflicts are few and far between and often lead to narrative dead ends.

    The Outsider is not lacking in style – its production design, costumes, and cinematography are assets – and there’s a strong sense that Zandvliet and Leto may have modelled Nick after Alain Delon’s Jef Costello in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le samouraï. Leto, however, is no Delon. Leto may have a cool presence but he’s a poseur. Someone like Delon, or even Keanu Reeves, can use their blankness in such a way that it adds to the mystique of their characters and becomes an essential ingredient to their films. In other words, Le samouraï would fall apart without Delon; The Matrix or John Wick would not work without Reeves. The same cannot be said for Leto and The Outsider; if anything, Nick is the most easily excisable character because of Leto’s portrayal which can be diplomatically described as minimalist.

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