Review: Violent Cop – Sono otoko, kyôbô ni tsuki (1989)

Directed by: Takeshi Kitano | 103 minutes | action, drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Takeshi Kitano, Maiko Kawakami, Makoto Ashikawa, Shiro Sano, Sei Hiraizumi, Mikiko Otonashi, Hakuryu, Ittoku Kishibe, Ken Yoshizawa, Hiroyuki Katsube, Noboru Hamada, Yuuki Kawai, Ritsuko Amano, Taro Ishida, Katsuki Muramatsu

In his younger days, actor / screenwriter / director Takeshi Kitano was an elevator operator in a comedy club. When one of the artists fell ill, he saw his chance. He volunteered to fill the empty spot, flattened the room, and became a celebrated stand-up comedian. Years later, when Kitano was cast for the lead role of “Violent Cop”, something similar happened: director Kinji Fukasaku was absent at the last minute and Kitano half jokingly suggested that he could take care of the project. That also worked out well, as Kitano launched his career as one of Japan’s most talented directors with “Violent Cop”. The moral of this story: some things just should have been.

The first decision Kitano made was to rewrite the screenplay. “Violent Cop” was originally intended as a comedy, but Kitano was keen to broaden his reach as an actor and felt that a serious film offered more opportunities for it. That does not mean that all humor has had to leave the field. On the contrary: “Violent Cop” is tough as nails but dryly funny, and Kitano has been smart enough to reserve some beautiful one-liners for himself. With Azuma, Japan got its own Dirty Harry; a detective who does not care about his superiors and finds that violence alone does not solve anything if you do not use enough of it. And that in a country where much value is placed on obedience and self-control.

In addition to a tough police film, “Violent Cop” is also an aesthetic film, with beautiful long shots, surprising camera angles and an engaging storyline. Underneath the omnipresent violence, intrigues and psychological subplots brew that ensure that the film is more than a long mat part. Kitano is cut out for the role of an idiosyncratic servant, but Hakuryu, who plays the psychopathic killer Kiyohiro, also performs well. As relentless as his character is, you start to get some sympathy for it as the film progresses. That’s because Kiyohiro is admirably tough on the one hand and has weakness on the other, especially when he turns out to be the plaything of a big dick he follows almost slavishly. Add to that a denouement that may not be surprising, but it is inevitable, and you have a gem that will delight all lovers of crime films and Japanese cinema.

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