Azuma (Takeshi Kitano) is a 20th century cop living in a country still mired in the traditions of the past. Rookie cops kowtow to the veterans at every turn and even the homicidal drug dealers respect their crime boss. But Azuma isn’t your average cop — he’s prone to violence and perhaps, just perhaps, he might be just as homicidal as the wild Japanese youths that run the streets. When we first see Azuma, he’s followed a teenager home from the park, where the teenager and his friends had beaten up an old homeless man for no reason than to amuse themselves. At the teenager’s home, Azuma proceeds to beat the living daylights out of the boy until the boy agrees to his one command — go to the police station in the morning and confess to the crime. This is how Azuma the cop does his investigations, it seems, and like it or not, it’s quite effective.
Violent Cop (or as the original Japanese title more appropriately calls it, Warning, This Man is Wild) is my first “Beat” Takeshi Kitano film. Kitano has quite a reputation among the underground film buffs in the States. Not having seen any of his other films, I won’t generalize the familiar contents or themes (if there are any) of his movies. Violent Cop is a good enough introduction. The film was made in 1989 and is being released in the U.S. under the name Violent Cop. The movie’s storyline is quite simple: a drug dealer is killed and Azuma investigates, discovers a connection to a cop in his precinct who happens to be his best friend, and the bad guys come after Azuma and his sister, Akari (Maiko Kawakami), who is slightly retarded. Oh, and Azuma is also taking a young rookie cop named Kikuchi under his wing. Or as Kikuchi says to Azuma, “Coach me.”
Violent Cop is a truly nihilistic movie. From its opening moments of the teen wilding in the park, we know we’re in for something dark and unpredictable. It is a quiet, sobering film, with long, solitaire moments of silence and non-action that is immediately followed by bursts of bloody violence. The Azuma character is a dark, brooding figure, and even his grin is dangerous looking.
Nothing in the movie is telegraphed; the quiet scenes can be suddenly shattered by violence at any second. In one particularly brutal scene, when Azuma and other cops go to arrest a partner of the dead dope dealer, the man beats the cops, escapes, then shatters the skull of another cop with a baseball bat, and escapes again, only to be run down (quite literally) by Azuma, who is in a car. That scene alone takes place on a crowded street and is perhaps the quietest police chase I’ve ever witnessed in a movie. In fact, much of the movie is devoid of non-diegetic music (that is, music not native to the movie’s environment (re: soundtracks)). Kitano seems to prefer the natural noise of his film instead of injecting outside music to invoke some kind of desired emotion out of his viewers, a technique so prevalent in Hollywood films.
The movie is very unpredictable, and that’s a good thing. All the standard cliché of the cop drama are there: the rookie cop partnering up with the loose cannon veteran, the boss who isn’t really qualified to be boss, and other genre standbys that are easily identifiable once they show up. What sets the movie apart is its unrelenting look at Azuma and his violent actions against the criminal element. In a world where the criminals are younger, faster, more violent, and completely unafraid of the cops and all their rules and traditional (both handicaps on the mean streets), Azuma fits in perfectly. His violence counters the criminals and vice versa.
In fact, it’s quite an enigma how Azuma became a cop in the first place. The man is violent, completely uncontrollable, and is just as liable to beat a suspect to death as he is to shoot the suspect to death. Azuma is not a man to be trifled with, but oddly enough, he seems to be just about the only person on the police force properly equipped to deal with the bad guys.
In an absurd scene that represents all the cumbersome traditions and ill-equipped nature of the Japanese police force to deal with the new generation of criminals, once Azuma runs over the suspect with his car, he’s ordered to write a letter of apology to the man. Mind you, this is the same suspect who has just beaten up 3 cops and shattered the skull of a fourth with a baseball bat! The scene is absurd, but what’s even more flabbergasting is that it’s probably very real. This is the protocol of the Japanese police force. Japan is a country mired in tradition and the past, and unfortunately for them, the newer generation of criminals has never bothered to learn those traditions. Azuma seems to be the only one who realizes this, and as such, he’s an outsider even among the other cops.
Violent Cop’s Third Act is one of the most violent acts I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not “most violent” in that it’s full of shoot-outs and action, oh no, Violent Cop doesn’t go for something so safe. There are three encounters in the Act that are brief, but the brevity of those scenes only adds to their impact on the viewer. There is one final shootout at the very end, inside a warehouse, that has to be seen to be believed. It is completely raw and horrific in its straightforward manner.
Not only is Kitano the star of Violent Cop, but he’s also the director. Kitano seems to favor prolonged master shots where the characters step into frame — but only after a few seconds of empty frame.
Kitano is clearly a man who enjoys establishing mood, and the straightforward, here-it-is and witness-it manner in which he films the violent scenes is incredible in their simplicity and suddenness. Everything is so natural that when the bursts of violence appear, they seem to flow within the world of the film without calling attention to themselves. The actors, especially Hakuryu as Kiyohiro, the homicidal assassin for the drug kingpin, all perform with great restraint, adding to the movie’s naturalistic vibe.
The final shootout at the warehouse is simply not to be missed.
Takeshi Kitano (director) / Hisashi Nozawa (screenplay)
CAST: Takeshi Kitano …. Azuma
Maiko Kawakami …. Akari
Makoto Ashikawa …. Kikuchi
Shiro Sano …. Yoshinari
Shigeru Hiraizumi …. Iwaki