Confusing Yakuza film takes 45 minutes to really get going, but once it does, it’s hypnotic. Kinji Fukasaku has such a command of organized chaos; it must be fun to act for him, because he has the actors go all out in every scene, with dozens of people in the frame, at least. Cops vs. Thugs is interested in the thin line between police and yakuza, like a lot of cop films, like a Japanese punk proto-Heat.
There are two defining moments in this film. At one point, the cops and yakuzas are drinking together and pile into a cruiser for a safe drive home. The cruiser runs afoul of a construction truck (introduced previously in the film in a short sequence introducing the belligerent driver of said truck) and the cops get out to beat up on the disrespectful construction worker. After a classic bit of Fukasaku chaos, the yakuza get out and tell the cops, “leave this to the pros” upon which time they stab the driver and his coworker, leaving the cops in pure shock. The difference between the two groups is stark.
The second moment comes late in the film, when the protagonist detective is hunting for a murderer. It’s a younger yakuza, naive and easily swayed by the promise of criminality and glamour. After a couple moments of pure darkness on screen, as the characters search a darkened warehouse, a flashlight illuminates the young yakuza’s crying face. He’s sobbing and frightened. He only did the murder to rise in the ranks. He was only following orders. The protagonist turns away and tells his fellow cops the murderer isn’t here; he’s filled with pity.
These Fukasaku yakuza films are fun, gritty, violent, but betray a thematic richness and a deep humanism. Despite showing the worst crimes and revelling in the violence, there’s a conservatism running throughout: if people knew their place, they wouldn’t be getting into so much trouble. But on the other hand, these films also openly suggest the only way to make change is through violent upheaval.
•Beyond the Film: Cops vs Thugs, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane
•A new visual essay on cops & criminals in Fukasaku’s works by film scholar Tom Mes
•Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan
•FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Patrick Macias.
Action, Crime | Japan, 1975 | 18 | 22nd May 2017 (UK) | Arrow Video | Dir. Kinji Fukasaku | Bunta Sugawara, Tatsuo Umemiya, Hiroki Matsukata |Buy:Cops vs Thugs [Blu-ray]