A homeless man sits alone muttering aimlessly to himself. He hears voices jeering incessantly from the nearby shadows. He looks around to find himself slowly being encircled by a group of several young adolescent males, mocking and laughing in unison. Without warning they begin kicking at him, as he stumbles hurriedly to his feet and begins plodding away clumsily. They continue after him, herding him toward the nearby street, swiping and shoving at him until he falls to his knees. With that, one of the young boys kick at him sending his head against the pavement and ceasing the injured mans struggle. The boys cheerily turn away, saying their goodbyes and heading toward home.
With this begins Takeshi “Beat” Kitano’s Violent Cop. Here we are then introduced to Azuma (Kitano), who having witness the assault, decides instead of intervening, to following one of the young assailants home. Strolling casually to the front door, he knocks, and is received by the boy’s mother. He asks if her son his home, identifies himself as a police officer, and heads on up to the boys room instructing the mother to remain downstairs. When reaching the room, he knocks softly. When the door opens he immediately punches the boy in the face, and begins questioning him to his whereabouts and activities. He proceeds to knock the boy around, directing that he turn himself in. Without fail, the next day he does. It's made apparent from the get go, Azuma is by no means your average cop.
Violent Cop follows Azuma, who decidedly takes the department rookie Kikuchi (Makato Ashikawa) under his wing, as they investigate the recent murder of a local drug dealer. Shortly into the investigation finds Iwaki (Sei Hiraizumi), a member of the vice squad and Azumi’s best friend, partnered in a drug ring, helmed by local Yakuza. Not long after this discovery Iwaki turns up dead, in what amounts to the appearance of suicide; yet further investigation reveals homicide, pointing toward the same perpetrator as the initial drug slaying. As the film progresses Azumi steadily degrades further into a world of violence and self destruction, in deliberation, blurring the lines of right and wrong.
Initially known in Japan as Beat Takeshi, a member of the 70’s comedic duo Two Beats; Kitano dissolved the pairing with the resolution to turn to acting in the mid 80’s, and after director Kinji Fukusaku fell ill during the production of Violent Cop, Kitano made his first foray into the directors chair, submitting several re-writes to the script.
Kitano’s debut feature reflects much of what his later works would come to be noted for, with one clear exemption. Violent Cop is devoid of the signature sentiment, and dry humor pioneered in films such as Sonatine or Hana-bi. As a result, Violent Cop makes for a far bleaker experience. Nihilistic in approach, it finds Azuma spiraling downward with no real glimmer of reprieve or sanguinity for an optimal resolution. The film lumbers slowly, only further heightened by Azuma’s minimal delivery of dialog and somber disposition, all of which transgresses the narrative into what appears to be far more involved than the actuality. Realisticly, the story is quite simple, and from the onset of the films forlorn beginnings, one can easily grasp a pretty fair assessment of where the feature is headed.
Once more the story itself becomes derivative of Azuma’s descent, merely a segue into Azuma's laborious decline. The further the story advances, the more desolate his situation becomes, slowly there evolving an acute degradation of the individual, his stare already blank to begin with, seems to devolve within itself, all that remains is his task before him; with the resulting violence becoming all the more extreme.
Violent Cop, without question, makes for an engaging cinematic experience. Azuma, while not so much a relatable character, is undeniably an intriguing one. Azuma remains emotionless through much of the film, sullenly stoic, eyes blankly staring faithfully forward into nothingness. What little expression we do see, amounts to the occasional disconcerting laugh, or violent outburst. It’s absolutely chilling, especially when one takes into account that this is supposedly a man sworn to protect and uphold the law. Yet Azuma thinks nothing of beating a young boy or maiming a suspect, it’s only the end result he’s concerned with. The methods, whether just or otherwise, mean nothing.
One of the grittier aspects of the film is the violence itself. You will find no Hollywood polished glamour here, the action herein is visceral in nature, happening instantaneously, almost seemingly from nowhere. In one scene in particular Azuma repeatedly slaps a suspect in a dingy bathroom, looking for further information on the identity of the murderer and his whereabouts; while most definitely aided by editing, the ending result remains highly effective, Azuma appearing cold and maniacal, with the continued blank, if not dead, stare.
A film wholly pessimistic from beginning to end, Violent Cop is certain to make many film goers uncomfortable. Yet beneath the violence and devastation, is a compelling look into the psyche of a man on the fringe; will he ultimately find himself lost to the darker realms of his own subconscious? I fear you may already know.
The good folks at Second Sight bring Violent Cop to the UK on DVD. While I’m not completely positive, I believe this is the first, or among the few releases of the film that includes English subs that is also anamorphically enhanced. While that’s certainly a plus, the fact that the source had to be converted to the PAL standard poses the usual inherent problems that come along with that practice, like ghosting, the occasional noticeable frame-stutter during long, fluid camera movements, and a bit of aliasing. Regardless though, compared to some of the other releases out there, this disc is far from the worst visual presentation the film has seen. The audio is available in both 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Digital, and the 5.1 mix has some nice directionality for a film that wasn't intended to have a knock-out audio performance. The optional English subtitles are well done for the most part, with only a few errors to note, although I noticed some lines of dialogue being omitted, more than likely to cut down on redundancy. Still, it’d be nice to see every single line of spoken dialogue translated.
An audio commentary with Chris D is included, which is just fine for those exploring Kitano’s films, and yakuza cinema in general for the first time, but he doesn’t really go into much about the film itself; it’s more of a primer talking about influences he noticed and why certain things are done certain ways in yakuza films. The sole extra is a 68-minute interview piece with Kitano entitled “Takeshi Kitano: The Unpredictable”. It seems to be an episode of a French television series, and it’s quite interesting, with Kitano speaking on everything from the variations on his name, his political leanings, his motorcycle accident and how he felt it was fate due to his outlook on life during that time, how he’s influenced by Yukio Mishima, and of course all of his films. Kitano is very open during the whole piece, and any fan of his work should find it to be worth a look. -KamuiX
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