• Cops Vs Thugs

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: May 22nd, 2017.
    Director: Kinji Fukasaku
    Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata
    Year: 1975
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    The Movie:

    Yakuza movies were at the height of their popularity during the seventies and few directors were at the forefront of the genre in the same way that the late, great Kinji Fukasaku was. While some of his entries in the Japanese gangster film cannon, like Graveyard Of Honor, are better known than Cops Vs Thugs, this 1975 effort stands with the best of them as an exceptionally cool slice of nihilistic moviemaking genius.

    The police have had their hands full for the last half a decade or so. Yakuza gangs have been very active and as a result of that, the crime rate has risen to the point where they've had no choice but to do something about it. Though they've made great strides, there are still two major thorns in their side. Some of the problems stem from the Kawade gang, they've got some serious political ties thanks to an arrangement with a congressman that lets them get away with a little more than your average gang of crooks. On the other hand, there's also the Ohara Gang, who have connections with local law enforcement officials. The leader of the Ohara's, Kenji Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata), even manages to get police cooperation in a land deal he's brokering. This ensures that the law looks the other way when it's time for him to seal the deal.

    Unfortunately for Kenji, his boss, who was previously in prison doing hard time, has been released and has ideas about taking back control of the Ohara gang. His plan is to make them go legit. Kenji has just started to like the taste of the power he's had and so this is obviously going to cause some conflict among the gangsters. To complicate things even further, there's a new cop on the force, Detective Kuno (the perpetually cool Bunta Sugawara of The Tattooed Hitman), and he's not as susceptible to bribes and threats as most of the cops in the area seem to be. In fact, if Kuno has his way the police will be cleaning up the streets and ridding the area of Yakuza. Kuno's commanding officer doesn't like the way he wants to handle things, and he intends to reel him in a bit, but it might already be too late. You see, Kuno has a serious chip on his shoulder and he's had about all he can take. With the two clans more or less at war with each other and a rogue cop shooting first and asking questions later, it would seem inevitable that sooner, rather than later, it's all going to hit the fan…

    By 1975, Kinji Fukasaku had enough crime films under his belt that he really did know what he was doing in the genre. As his work in the category evolved, his films started to become less idealized and romanticized and an obvious trend started to appear within his work – it was getting dirtier. Not dirty in the pornographic sense, but dirty in the way that a down to earth and realistic movie about the criminal underworld should be. No longer were the characters he was making movies about good guys underneath it all. No, most of the characters he was dealing with were bastards, out for themselves with little regard as to who got in their way. In an interesting contrast to that, however, both the titular cops and thugs in this particular film do subscribe to a similar code of ethics under which they operate. Though these may be rough and violent men, they still have a strange sense of honor that they subscribe to, even if at times the definition of that honor is stretched pretty thin.

    The first half of the film is chaos. There's a lot going on and no one central character for the audience to latch on to. However, this is corrected easily enough when Kuno is introduced. While he's still not a lead in the typical sense he is at least a character that we can identify with, party Harry Callahan and part Hattori Hanzo. With Sugawara in that role, the film has no shortage of cool posturing and grimacing for the camera. The actor comes off just as tough as you'd expect a man tasked with fighting crime should be. He's not above Fukasaku's criticism, however, and at times he's painted in a similar light to the very crooks he's trying to stop. The movie asks a lot of questions about right and wrong and about where one’s morals should come in to play in terms of economic stability and survival. It also points fingers at not only the cops and the thugs in the film but also the newspaper men, hungry for a story and so eager to cash in on the stories unfolding to make a quick dollar – just like the very same men they're reporting on and making money off of. It's all a vicious circle.

    Cops Vs Thugs is an angry film. It's violent. It features more than one instance of brutal rape, and it doesn't paint a very pretty picture of the world that it takes place in. It's also extremely well made, very well acted, and unfortunately rather poignant.


    Cops Vs Thugs arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video on a 50GB Blu-ray disc with the feature itself using roughly 25GBs of space. Framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition from a transfer that was ‘remastered in high definition and supplied for this release by Toei Company, Ltd.’ the image quality here doesn’t showcase the best that Blu-ray can offer but it definitely beats the pants off of previous DVD releases. This isn’t the most colorful film you’ve ever seen – a lot of it takes place indoors, often in back rooms that aren’t particularly well lit. The scenes that do take place outdoors have a sort of hazy look to them, the skies are often overcast rather than bright and sunny. As such, color reproduction seems accurate enough, just don’t expect this one to pop that much (though some of the bloodshed in the later part of the picture provides some interesting visual contrast in this regard). The screen caps below give you a pretty accurate representation of what this looks like in motion. Detail is alright, texture and depth as well, just never reference quality.

    The Japanese LPCM Mono soundtrack is clean, clear and free of any hiss or distortion. Optional English subtitles are included that are easy to read and free of any typographical errors. The score comes through with enough emotive strength that it perfectly accentuates the more intense scenes of the film, but it never buries the performers and neither does the foley, nor do the sound effects. As far as older mono tracks go, there's nothing to complain about here. Cops Vs Thugs sounds fine.

    Extras on the disc start out with a featurette called Beyond The Film: Cops Vs Thugs, a ‘new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane.’ In this nine minute piece Yamane explores the connections between some of Fukasaku’s yakuza pictures and also gives some background information on the film’s screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara and how he went about collecting the stories that eventually became this feature film. He also discusses the film’s raw tone, the physicality of the picture, and the influence that this and other Fukasaku films had on many younger Japanese directors that followed in his footsteps.

    Also included here is a ‘new visual essay on cops & criminals in Fukasaku's works’ by film scholar Tom Mes that is entitled All Under The Gun: Kinji Fukasaku’s Tales Of Cops And Criminals. This piece runs just under fourteen minutes and it has Mes narrating over footage from this and other Fukasaku’s films, starting with the opening scene in which we see the alligator shoes up on a desk, an indication that these are ‘not a policeman’s shoes.’ He then goes on to examine the camerawork and imagery in the film, how it ties into the storyline and how many of Fukasaku’s pictures defy traditional definitions of good and evil. Mes also offers some insight into Japanese politics and culture of the day and how that effected certain films and their box office performance, how business and underworld interests colluded in real life as well as in these films, influences that Fukasaku pulled from when making Doberman Cop with Sonny Chiba and quite a bit more. Interesting stuff.

    Not listed on the packaging for this release is a selection of ‘Archive behind-the-scenes footage’ that runs five minutes. Here we get to see Fukasaku talk to the camera while walking through a location discussing the picture. He shares his thoughts on the themes that the film deals with and how they relate to the real world, about working with Bunto Sugawara, and the depiction of violence in his movies. From there, we get a chance to see some of the actors rehearsing for the camera, taking direction from Fukasaku and choreographing the intense interrogation scene from the film.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release the clear Blu-ray flipper style case also holds a DVD version of the movie that has the same extras on it as are found on the Blu-ray disc. Also included inside the case is some reversible sleeve art featuring a newly commissioned piece by Ian MacEwan on one side and the film’s original Japanese one sheet on the reverse. The first pressing of this title also comes with an illustrated full color insert booklet that contains an essay on the film by Patrick Macias entitled True Crimes: Behind The Scenes Of Cops Vs Thugs as well as credits for the film and for the Blu-ray release itself.

    The Final Word:

    Cops Vs Thugs is a fantastic slice of tough and gritty Yakuza action. Highly recommended for fans of the genre, and recommended for everyone else with even a remote interest in crime movies or Japanese cinema. Arrow offers up the film in a fairly nice edition with some decent extra features accompanying it, making this the best version of the film currently available in North America.
    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!