Friday, January 06, 2017

VIOLENT COP (1989) Dishes Out the Justice

Recently named one of the Best DVD/Blu-Ray releases of 2016, the Blu-Ray of Takeshi Kitano's VIOLENT COP (1989) is now available for fans of Japanese cinema and gritty action flicks. Robert Segedy takes a look at this tale of a no nonsense detective taking the law into his own hands. WARNING: Review contains spoilers, so if you have not seen the film, take heed!

After reading many reviews comparing Takeshi Kitano's VIOLENT COP (1989) to Clint Eastwood and his Dirty Harry character, I soon grew tired of that analogy. VIOLENT COP is and isn't like Eastwood's famous character. Kitano puts his own trademark, but nevertheless odd, spin on a familiar theme: good/bad cop is angry and filled with scorn for today's criminals and fellow lawmen, so he decides to act accordingly and disobey the upper echelon of command, sets about delivering his own brand of justice and ultimately ends up being fired from the police force and goes it alone. And that's putting a very simple spin on a relatively complex character; Kitano's detective is an army of one, answering to no one, delivering justice with one slap, one kick, and one bullet at a time. At the same time, his character is multi-faceted; he's loyal to a fellow detective discovered selling drugs; he's protective of his sister, just released from the hospital; but, he's also tight with his money, engages in illegal betting, and constantly borrows money from his colleagues. He may resemble Dirty Harry in his policing techniques, but it's impossible to know what's happening inside his head.

VIOLENT COP was Kitano's directorial debate and the film (as written by Hisashi Nozawa) was initially planned as a comedy. When director Kinji Fukusaku had problems with Kitano's film schedule he dropped out, so Kitano rewrote the script and starred in and directed it. Kitano was well known to Japanese audiences, but his persona wasn't of a dramatic nature, he was seen as a fast-talking motor-mouth comedian. Japanese audiences were used to seeing Kitano as the host of various talk shows and part of a two-man comedy team named The Two Beats. He was also cast as a sadistic POW commander in Nagisa Oshima's MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE (1983) opposite David Bowie and Tom Conte.

Azuma (Kitano) is a no nonsense drug enforcement detective. In the introduction to his character, we witness a group of Japanese youths take advantage of a homeless man as they beat the poor man senseless. The youths leave the scene of the crime and the camera follows one boy as he rides a bicycle home; Detective Azuma knocks on the door and flashes a badge to the boy's mother.  Promising the mother that he just wants to talk to her son, he barges into the boy's bedroom and violently bitch slaps the shit out of the offender, making him promise that he and his friends will come to the squad room and surrender themselves. We are immediately made aware of Azuma's style: silent, quick to anger, fast with his feet and fists. The Japanese title of this film is "Suno otoke, kyobo nit suki", which translates in English to "That man, being violent." Kitano is indeed a violent cop.
As a character study, VIOLENT COP is a fascinating examination of an individual who is not afraid to take a stand against the bad guys of the world. Not letting the authority of the new commander bother him, Azuma is coerced into writing a letter of apology to a man that attacked several police officers, including hitting one man in the head with a baseball bat. Azuma hits him with a car after a lengthy chase scene. A streak of black comedy runs throughout the film; when a bartender asks him and his partner what line of work are they in, Azuma replies "Mail order guns".

Azuma's facial expressions barely register; there is a stillness that is present before he explodes into an act of violence, his face a frozen mask, his eyes black and lifeless. Kitano as a director favors long takes with a still camera, his character usually looking directly into the lens. Instead of a pulsing rock soundtrack, Kitano prefers to use a light, almost classical score that acts as a counterpoint to the action on the screen. The piano theme heard several times during the movie is Erik Satie's "Gnossienne No.1".

Fans of violence will find much to enjoy here as Azuma meets his match in an ultra-violent criminal counterpart, Kiyohiro (Ryu Haku), a killer that is partial to sadistic acts and relishes seeing his opponent cower in fear.  Azuma and Kiyohiro face off in a nasty scene that involves Azuma being stabbed repeatedly from behind, but for reasons unknown, he lets his adversary walk away from him, perhaps to leave him to fight another day. This reminded me of the relationship between Batman and The Joker; the men are twisted reflections of the other, identical except in which side of the law their allegiance lies. That may be a rather simple analogy, but this film is not that simple to decipher; each viewing brings another layer of understanding to these complex characters.

[WARNING: Spoilers Follow!] 

After Azuma is fired from the police department, he finds himself free to completely embrace his bad side and he dedicates himself to ridding the world of the assassin Kiyohiro, his boss Nito (Ittoku Kishibe) and anyone else that is affiliated with the underworld. In a finale that mirrors the bloodbath ending of films like TAXI DRIVER (1976) and CHINATOWN (1974), Azuma coldly tracks down Kiyohiro and his motley gang to a warehouse where they have been busy amusing themselves by raping his sister (Maiko Kawakami) and consequently addicting her to heroin. Even before Azuma arrives Kiyohiro has offed three of his crew. Azuma fearlessly enters the warehouse and after a long take, steadily walks toward the assassin, who empties two revolvers at Azuma; but at this point nothing can stop the avenging ex-policeman, and even though badly wounded, he finishes the killer off with a shot to the forehead. His drug addicted sister, pleading for another fix, gets a bullet for her trouble while Azuma is killed by one of Nito's henchmen, who shakes his head in disgust at this waste of life.

In the final scene, we see Azuma's former partner Kikuchi (Maiko Kawakami), once a bumbling rookie, now a slick looking agent, taking the place of drug dealing detective Iwaki (Shigeru Hiraizumi). VIOLENT COP comes full circle as Kikuchi has become a composite of both Azuma and Iwaki. This was Kitano's directorial debut and the film still packs a punch 26 years later. Kitano would go on to direct several other films including SONATINE (1993) and OUTRAGE (2010).

VIOLENT COP arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray from Film Movement framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded transfer. The Blu-ray is produced by Film Movement Classics and features the film, a documentary (That Man is Dangerous: The Birth of Takeshi Kitano Featurette), a Japanese preview of the film and a new HD re-release trailer, as well as six other Film Movement trailers. The package contains a booklet featuring an essay by Tom Vick as well as cast and crew credits. – Robert Segedy

Robert Segedy is a published author who resides in North Carolina; his interests include intense films, esoteric writings, and true crime. He previously wrote about the film SESSION 9.

VIOLENT COP is available from Diabolik DVD and Amazon.

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