(Spoilers ahead) A few weeks ago Netflix released the trailer to The Outsider. Social media went ballistic at Hollywood and the entertainment industry for what they perceived as another attempt at whitewashing. Now that The Outsider has been released we know it’s not a case of whitewashing, but another example of social media users making snap judgments based on a trailer.
Unlike the recent Ghost in the Shell staring a very Caucasian Scarlett Johansson taking over the lead from a Japanese cartoon character, Caucasian actor Jared Leto plays American soldier Nick Lowell stationed in post-WW II Japan. It’s not whitewashing when a Caucasian is cast to play a Caucasian. The problem with The Outsider isn’t whitewashing, the problem with The Outsider is it’s boring movie.
At sometime and for some reason Lowell finds himself in a Japanese prison. While there he helps a Yakuza gangster by the name of Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi happens to be a high ranking member of the Yakuza in Osaka. When Lowell gets out of prison he has a job waiting for him. If this seems like a quick explanation it’s because from the time Lowell meets Kiyoshi to the time he’s a member of the yakuza happens very quickly.
It’s not every day a white man becomes a member of the yakuza, but the movie would have us believe it only took Lowell beating a manager of a steel company with a type writer and killing two members of a rival gang to become a member. There’s no drama and no build up to what should be an explosive event. Lowell becoming a member of the yakuza just happens. It’s that simple.
The title would have us believe Lowell would be an “outsider.” There’s very little challenge to a gaijin becoming privy to the inner workings of one of the most notorious criminal organizations in the world. It’s a shame the movie didn’t take more time to focus on Lowell’s attempt to gain acceptance in a world and culture which would normally not be open to an outsider. Instead we get to see him cut off the tips of two of his fingers. Lowell is no more an outsider to Japanese culture and to the yakuza than the viewer.
While easing his way into the yakuza Lowell finds time to fall in love with Kiyoshi’s sister Miyu. Their budding romance happens over a quick scene of Lowell getting his back tattooed. Kiyoshi forbids Lowell from seeing his sister until she gets pregnant and then everything is fine. Again, it’s easy and there’s no challenge. Why would there be? The Outsider isn’t trying to be anything but another gangster movie.
As a gangster movie, The Outsider checks off all the boxes on the gangster cliche list. Akihiro, the boss of Lowell’s gang, turns down a deal with the rival yakuza gang. Members of Akihiro’s family are murdered. The rivalry between the two Osaka yakuza gangs turns into a war. Akihiro is betrayed by someone close to him and murdered. In the end, the remaining members turn to Lowell as the new head of their yakuza crime family. Why wouldn’t hardened yukuza gangsters turn to the gaijin for redemption? Everything else happened so easily why would becoming a crime boss be any more difficult?
If you’re looking for a gangster movie stay with the classics like The Godfather, which The Outsider is so desperately trying to emulate. If you’re looking for something more along the lines of The Outsider we recommend movies like Black Rain, Rising Sun. Yes, these movies are from the 80s and may seem dated, but it will meet your craving for East meets West with a yakuza flair. Plus, the acting is a lot better than what you’ll find in The Outsider.