According to Wikipedia, "When writing the screenplay, Kitano started by inventing the ways in which characters would be killed in the film, and thereafter wrote a story that would go along with the violence." Yep, that makes sense, for this is a long sequence of violent incidents, occasionally interrupted by plot. It certainly portrays the Japanese Yakuza are an incredibly structured, yet ultra-violent, group of criminals, even when dealing with each other. Here, it's one of the smaller gangs, under Ikemoto (Kunimura), who is ordered by his bosses to break a pact made with the group belonging to Murase, made when the two leaders were in prison at the same time. Ikemoto delegates the task down the chain to Otomo (Takeshi), who immediately begins to provoke the target, aiming to prod them into retaliation which can then be escalated into a full-scale war. Yet, there may be bigger plans in motion, above Ikemoto's head.
I watched this after its sequel, Beyond Outrage, though that didn't appear to make any significant difference, as they appear to be free-standing entities. This certainly feels like a throwback to the films which first introduced me to Kitano, with their depiction of the murky Japanese underworld, in which corrupt cops and semi-honourable gangsters growl at each other in harshly-accented Japanese, in between bouts of lovingly-portrayed violence. We get possibly the most intense bit of tongue abuse since Ichi the Killer, violence by dental drill, and find out what happens when a car is driven off, while someone in the back has their neck tied with a long rope to a stanchion. In comparison, I have to say both the characters and the plot seem underdrawn: the former feel almost like caricatures of gangsters as much as real people, and there aren't many surprises as the plot unfolds. It's hardly a showstopper, when Kitano's screen presence hasn't dimmed over time. He remains the kind of forceful persona from whom you can't tear your eyes, and that's enough to sustain your interest.