The first Outlaw: Gangster VIP film was a very pleasant surprise the first time I saw it. I’ve never heard anything about it, nor ever seen any promotional material going into it. It’s this blind viewing experience that made me discover quite the hidden gem of a Yakuza film. Now, considering the fact I knew this was a franchise, and the ambiguous ending for the first movie I still consider the first entry a great standalone feature film. It was open enough where a debate towards the outcome of it conclusion could be considered valid. This sequel had a tall order to follow, and for the first act at least, it was doing a good job building on the foundation the original film laid out. However, after the first act was done it reverted back to the same familiar structure, and plot points that could be found in the original, just less potent this time around.
Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 continues the story of Goro (Tetsuya Watari) who wants to put his dark past behind, and live an honest man’s life. This is a direct sequel so knowing what happens in the first film is a blessing, and a curse. A blessing in the since Goro is a developed character could be even more fleshed out. Seeing him interact with people in this film holds greater significance with a better understanding of Goro from the previous movie. For the first act, this sequel serves up being a good extension to the franchise. Seeing Goro for the first time in his life attempting to be an honest man, and seeing him struggling through that is compelling. The same also applies to him attempting to stay committed to his new lifestyle no matter the difficulty given to him. It’s also the best part of the movie since Goro is shown tackling, and failing to overcome new challenges as a straight man. If the film expanded further on this than the foreseeable events later on in the story would have packed some kind of a punch.
Another positive to the film is the subplot revolving around Goro, and Yukiko (Chieko Matsubara) attempting to make money to take care of fatally ill friend Yumeko (Kayo Matsuo) is potent. Unlike the other plot threads within the sequel, this feels the most potent in its effort to tell another good story in Goro life. It’s not a rethread of something that happened in a previous movie, and it offers some kind of continuity that when the subplot ends it is actually meaningful. This subplot also leads to the best dramatic scene in the film, but unfortunately saying more than that would require spoiling it.
There is one area where this sequel somewhat does better than the original, and that’s fleshing out Yukiko. She still isn’t given much to do, but her contribution to the story adds something to the story. Without Yukiko, certain scenes discussing love wouldn’t work. So yes, by simply having Yukiko exist, and be the love interest the film discussion on love doesn’t come off as phoned in. Other than that, expect the same song, and dance for the rest of the material.
The negative side of this being a direct sequel is a bigger of suspension of disbelief when viewing the film. Asking the viewer to overlook the fact that Goro met the same type of people, and similar events happened around him is quite a stretch. Another drawback is the inevitable boredom of that you’ve seen these same exact scenes, and same exact outcome in the previous film. Offering little surprises in the direction the story. Once you determine what exactly this sequel is going to rethread you’ll have less of a reason to be invested in it.
Perhaps the biggest drawback is the ending of the movie. Unlike the original film where its ambiguous nature could be debated in spite of there being sequels. Here, the ending comes off as more conclusive as you’ll see a bloodied Goro finally stopped moving, and lay down on the floor. The first time when I saw this kind of ending it left a good impression. I was willing to overlook the fact in the original Outlaw: Gangster VIP there was an entire franchise, but here, I simply can’t for the reasons stated earlier. It rethread too much material so expecting me to leave the movie with the same kind of meaningful experience is not earned.
Tetsuya Watari once again takes the leading role as Goro, and he does another good job in the film. It’s largely feels like a repeat of his performance of the first movie, but his portrayal is nonetheless still effective. His line delivery is commanding, and sincere at a moment notice. He’s convincing in the action sequences he performs with the psychical appearance to boot too. Yes, Tetsuya Watari still refuses to put his arms into his jackets just like the first movie in a good amount of scenes which is going to be mentioned as long as he does. Just like in the previous movie, his chemistry with the cast is on point again in this sequel.
Returning actors like Chieko Matsubara who plays Yukiko, and Shoki Fukae both whom play new character named Mori are dependable again. However, seeing them play their respective characters with little new to offer makes them easily fade into the background. Unlike Tetsuya Watari whose in the front, and center of not only the dramatic scenes, but also the action sequences allowing him to shine despite the rethread. Both Matsubara, and Fukae aren’t granted that luxury since they did little in the first movie, and here it’s no different.
New actors whom do appear in the movie have the drawback of playing similar characters already portrayed in the first film. Making any new actor who plays a similar character from the previous film seem like an imitation. The only bright side of the new cast is obviously Kunie Tanaka who plays Katsuji Nemoto, an underachieving yakuza with a grudge against Goro. His character is sympathetic without crossing into over acting. Unlike Goro whom once again fallen back into the Yakuza lifestyle, Tanaka plays a more dynamic character that is allow to mix it up how he interacts with Watari. While it’s unfortunate Tanaka didn’t receive more screen time in the film, he makes the most of what he is given. Everyone else though, I could hardly remember to be honest.
Following from the first movie, the technical aspect as still top notch, but not of the same quality. This time, Keiichi Ozawa takes over for the rest of the franchise. Like his actors, Ozawa feels too much like he’s impersonating Toshio Masuda (the first Outlaw: Gangster VIP director) style, tone, and just about everything. The one thing Ozawa maintains as his own is his lack subtlety in the drama department. Going as far in one scene to have a ray of light shine down on a dying character, and in another scene showing footage of an raging avalanche once Goro decides to go back to working in the Yakuza. You know, visual allegory to help hammer in the point of the scene you’re watching. The action sequences are once again good to witness. Some setpieces feel like a rehash of the original, but again, for a late 60s film the action sequences hold up pretty well. Music isn’t as memorable as in the first film, but is serviceable working favor of the movie. Though the climax lacks the impactful score found that made the first film end on a high note.
Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 is more of the same. The same characters, the same story, and the same themes. However, the acting, the action, and some of the new story beats are just as good, even if crossing into familiar territory diminishes their impact. I do feel this sequel while sadly a downgrade from the first entry is still not bad a movie. It’s positives overweighs the negatives, but viewing it for yourself is another story. For me, I was enthusiastic going into the film anticipating where the next chapter of Goro life would take him, and it wasn’t much different from the first movie. It left me disappointed by the time the ending title card came up, but one thing I was not was angry, nor did I felt like my time was wasted. Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 has a specific goal of capturing the same magic of the original film, and it was a decent attempt at it. Succeeding in what it aimed to do, even if it wasn’t the homerun it was expected it to be.