Published Feb 28, 2013Prior to focusing on aestheticism in film, but after his long time stint as television comedian "Beat" Takeshi, Kitano shifted his career in an auteur direction in 1989 when the original director of Violent Cop fell ill. Stepping in to direct himself in the role of Azuma, a renegade cop almost as unstable and sadistic than the criminals he investigates, Kitano acknowledged the tropes of the genre—demonstrated primarily in Western cinema at the time—positing himself as an ersatz Dirty Harry of sorts.
The distinction is that of time and tradition; Azuma is one of the only cops capable of keeping up with the increasingly twisted and complex violence in Japan, where a system trapped in the past limits working ability to maintain order. From his character introduction, following home a teen gang leader that has beaten a homeless man to death and assaulting him in his bedroom, his calm, almost existentially defined, disposition is that of long-defeated ideals and practical rudimentary justice.
Suffice it to say, the structure of the film parrots those of the standard American cop film: Azuma investigates the murder of a drug dealer, linking it to a shady cop, while training an overly eager new recruit and babysitting his mentally handicapped sister. But where Violent Cop diverges is in tone, style and predictability.
The violence throughout the film is unembellished and exceedingly unglamorous. As Azuma punches, throws down stairs and kicks criminals into submission, the antagonists' indulge in gang rape, throwing people off buildings and bashing heads in with baseball bats. The redundancy of it all is lost on no one, which is why the long bouts of silent contemplation are met with almost irrational and unexpected action in crowded locales, where children oversee and take these values with them.
The thematic template of fighting fire with fire isn't particularly revolutionary in the canon of '80s cinema, but the pseudo-satiric play on Western tropes, where such behaviour is met with hip indifference rather than the worldly defeatism presented here, makes Violent Cop something more.
Still, the endless violence and its intended numbing effect is, in part, contrary to the despondent, somewhat misanthropic, social assertions, just as the compounding clichés involved in the plotting makes it hard to care about, or analyze the work as something more. The commentary on society is as broad and tenuously defined as the acknowledgement of genre tropes; clever ideas are presented and given some thought, but don't gel in the final package.
Violent Cop screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at 8:30pm on Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 as part of The Catch: Japanese Cinema of the Eighties retrospective. (Fox Lorber)