Jared Leto, with his android face and a back full of Japanese style tattoos, peers off in the middle distance slightly over one shoulder.

The Astonishing Banality of Cinematography in The Outsider

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  • Martin Zadvliet’s directorial follow up to his Oscar nominated Land of Mine is bad. The Outsider is another low barrier of entry, completely crappy film distributed by Netflix. I’m not sure why Netflix’s strategy with film distribution is to throw their branding onto train wrecks but that seems to be their modus operandi and they’re sticking to it. Nothing about this movie is very good though, if pressed, I’d say that the music is sort of interesting.

    Very little comes together to form a cohesive story and it’s simply not interesting to watch. Perhaps the only visual note that stuck out to me is the film’s aversion to male nudity. There are no fewer than three scenes in the movie which involve men bathing or bathhouses and almost every second of them are shot so that the viewer can avoid looking at a man’s butt.

    As the camera pans across dozens of nude men, no bare ass is ever in focus. Tattoo covered backs and chests are on full display while butt cheeks are tucked beneath bathers. As Jared Leto walks nervously through the bath an astounding amount of modesty is enforced by the camera.

    As Leto’s character is brought deeper into the yakuza we’re treated to another bathhouse scene, this time with Leto as an accepted member. He cheers when his new brothers cheer, his body now adorned with Irezumi tattoos. Amazingly the scene manages to not contain a single male butt or even nipple. There’s nothing “wrong” with this but it’s incredible the effort that was put into make sure that no one’s princely dignity is violated.

    Of course, the film has no problem with naked women. While the aforementioned scene contains almost no male nudity below the shoulder it’s made even stranger by the completely naked woman shown to us serving sake. As the scene progresses the camera even cuts in to make sure we see her nipples as she pours.

    Japanese bathhouses, sent0 or the hot spring variety onsen, are well known for the fact that you’re naked with strangers. It’s not gratuitous or sexual, although most bathing is segregated by gender. People bathing together isn’t weird and, though it’s a practice on the decline, is deeply rooted in Japanese culture.

    Thus, these scenes are an acute reminder that The Outsider isn’t about Japan or the yakuza. The Outsider is a film made by outsiders who remain outsiders, never understanding or truly welcome. The gaze should always be averted but you can’t help but stare because, to the outsider, men pouring water on themselves while sitting naked on a little stool is weird.

    Even as Leto becomes immersed in this world, falls in love, and treats himself to bath time with his bros, the camerawork and direction reinforces how inappropriate the whole venture is. Our eyes are forced to be averted from this barely oxygenated conflagration. We’re not allowed to focus in on the world.

    What’s galling about this is that there’s no real reason for these scenes to be shot this way. As Leto gains increasing access, shouldn’t the viewer? It would be understandable if the camera reinforced Leto’s view and grew with his change from belittled foreigner to blood brother. Perhaps the reason the camera keeps us at arm’s length not because we too might be seduced by the world of the yakuza but simply because it finds naked men icky and isn’t well made in any way.

    Well, some of the music is alright.

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