In this first installment of our new series "What to Watch," we will report on movies and tv shows on Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming platforms that are interesting and worth binging. Let's begin with Netflix's 2018 original film The Outsider, directed by Martin Pieter Zandvliet and starring Jared Leto and Tananobu Asano. This film is set in World War II Japan, where Nick Lowell (Jared Leto) is an American POW soldier in an Osaka prison. One day he saves the life of a fellow prisoner named Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano), who is part of the Shiromatsu, a Japanese organized crime family. Kiyoshi was hanged by a rival gang while in prison, and by saving Kiyoshi's life, Nick is offered a way out of jail. From this debt, Nick is initiated into the Shiromatsu and becomes part of the crime family.
Throughout the film, you can see Nick's transformation from American POW soldier to Japanese underground criminal. His hair becomes slicker, suits sharper, fighting skills more precise and dangerous. His body is covered in Irezumi ( Traditional Japanese Tattoos), falls in love with Kiyoshi's sister, and he learns Japanese. Of course, Nick's transition into Japanese culture is not met without challenges. He had to adapt to not only Japanese culture but the rules of the Yakuza (a network of crime families in Japan) . As Nick is becoming the number two muscle of the group alongside Kiyoshi, he is met with jealousy within the ranks by Orochi, a member of the group and best friend of Kiyoshi. Nick is always known as an outsider in this underground world. The film touches on the themes of cultural appropriation, American/Japanese relations during World War II, belonging, finding a path, and being lost in translation (I love that movie too!). Many other overarching themes are throughout the entire film. To learn more about the Yakuza check out this video below :
At first, it was strange seeing Jared Leto transform into a Japanese gang member? He looked vicious and eerie, just like his character in Blade Runner 2049. Still, Jared Leto is known for his method acting and transforming into various characters we love and hate ( Joker, debates starting). Overall, I enjoyed this movie because it introduces the audience to the organized crime families of Japan and the traditions of that group. The audience is on a journey with Leto's character. We are introduced into this world through his eyes. Not to state the obvious, but there was criticism of this film. Most of the critics did not like the fact that Nick was the "White Savior" of Japan, or the plot was dull and meaningless. One of the critics was Andrew Barker from Variety magazine. Barker says, the film:
takes a decisive turn for the problematic, ending with a final shot that places it in the ignoble white- savior tradition of films such as "Dances with Wolves" and "The Last Samurai," It may make viewers angry, but at least they will feel something from this movie."
Initially, Tom Hardy and acclaimed Japanese director Takashi Miike were set to be apart of the movie, but they bailed, and a new director and lead actor replaced them. Dan Jackson from Thrillist.com says:
" Leto's dreamy looks in the film clashes with the intent of the movie or his desire to be taken seriously as an actor."
I agree Jared Leto cannot help that he is pretty LOL! His features are very striking in this movie to the point you forget about the other characters. Some aspects of the film needed more of an edger feel to it. I do think the director and writer could have dug deeper into the Yakuza traditions and had sharper fighting scenes. Jared Leto could have brought more of a sinister performance as an organized member of a crime family.
Regardless of the criticism from this movie. I still think it is worth watching! As I mentioned before, you are introduced as an audience member into the organized crime world of Japan. I did not mind Leto's character being immersed in the culture because it was not for profit, nor was he forced into it but chose this path. Now could the plot have had more depth? Yes, and the characters fleshed out more? Yes. I agree somewhat with the critics about this film, but Leto did a good job for what it was worth! I do not know what actor could have been better for this film? But some of Leto's choices in roles pay off in significant ways like the Dallas Buyer's Club.
For some reason this film made me want to know more about the Yakuza, or maybe I am just interested in learning about all of Japanese culture, which has nothing to do with this film. I give this film a B - ; it could have been a lot better, but it is still a good story plot and has exciting themes throughout. Also, I think Jared Leto's acting in the film was good for what it was worth. I would like to see more movies similar to this one without the "White Savior" syndrome (which I do not think was too much in this film). Instead, I want to see characters placed in unfamiliar settings navigating the world around them. I do wish this film was an animated series instead! Check out the trailer and the movie now streaming on Netflix and let us know what you think?