Less of a Dirty Harry rip off and more of a Dirty Harry influenced film, Violent Cop easily comes into its own, and isn’t just a Japanese retooling of a classic American film. If you were to randomly blurt out, “VIOLENT COP!” out of context like a total manic, people would probably think of Dirty Harry, and rightfully so. This is a different kind of “loose cannon” with a badge however. One that’s more…well…“violent.”
Within the first ten to fifteen minutes, we see Azuma (the cop that the title refers to) follow a high school-aged nogoodnik home after bearing witness to him and a group of other goons senselessly kill a homeless man. Seconds later, Azuma beats up the kid in his own home and demands that he turn himself in the next day. The kid does, though Azuma’s less than by-the-book actions are not smiled upon by his new boss. In other words, right away we know what we’re getting ourselves into…or do we?
Early on, the supposition that Violent Cop is going to be a blatant rip off of Dirty Harry isn’t totally unfounded, especially when you look at the title given to it in the U.S.! The original title, その男、凶暴につき (Sono Otoko, Kyobo ni Tsuki), translates to something more along the lines of “that man being ferociously attacked,” giving the title a different, though similar meaning.
I’m of the opinion that the exclusion of the word “cop” in the title allows a potential audience to see Azuma as a person who happens to be a cop, whereas the inclusion of the word “cop” feels all the more sensationalized in the U.S. title. While watching this with friends, more than one expressed the opinion that this “violent cop” wasn’t very violent at all; though I can’t say for sure whether or not they’d feel the same way if they went into viewing the film under the preconception of what a literal English translation of it’s original title would provide. Speaking of translation, another problem throughout the film is the absence of subtitles where it seems as if the translator felt they were unnecessary. True, many scenes where dialogue is spoken though not subtitled are not absolutely crucial to this film, their absence takes away from more than one scene nuances that should be made available to viewers no matter their native language.1
Though non-native speakers of Japanese are at the mercy of a single subtitler, every audience in every language is, for better or for worse, subjected to Director Takeshi Kitano’s markedly long takes. It is with these abnormally long takes that we see Azuma (played by Kitano) as being more “real” or “true to life” compared to what one might see in a modern, highly stylized (and edited) blockbuster. Truth be told, this is an uncommon employ of camerawork, one that I’m not entirely sure of. One reason could be that this is Kitano’s debut film; alluding to his newly found understanding and not complete mastery of the medium. Whatever the reason for its implementation, I think it does what I feel Kitano intended: strip away the excess and reveal violence as it truly is, or can be. The longer takes, shot in what is either real time or seems as if they progress in real time, force the viewer to take on a third person view unseen in most films.
Not surprisingly, this could be viewed as slow and boring by a generation bred on MTV and other ADD-inducing visual media (video games and the instantly gratifying Internet). A pitfall that I imagine that Kitano is not responsible for the lack of visibility in dark environments, but I am again tempted to chalk it up to the then novice filmmaker’s inexperience as well.2 Outdoor scenes shot at night and nightclub scenes unnecessarily lack clarity and definition as evidenced below.
Again, though this isn’t absolutely crucial to the film, it still gives the impression of an unpolished work whose cinematography appears less than stellar overall when viewed with untrained (or uninterested) eyes. Though the subtitles and video quality aren’t perfect, it’s not as if this is the only foreign film that has fallen prey to this annoyance. It’s also not stretching the truth to say that I’m sure quite a few people would rather be a little annoyed and be able to enjoy the film in a language that they speak rather than not at all.
Complaints aside, I have to say that Violent Cop remains entertaining, interesting and even thought-provoking. Slowly we begin to get a better picture of Azuma, how and why he upholds the law and does “right” in the way that he does. His sarcastic sense of humor, love for his sister and his job and social skills in general all tempt me to ask, “Is this guy out of his mind or is he just fucking with everyone all the time?” Is his mentality and sense of law the product of heredity or were they taught to him? How much did this film influence Reservoir Dogs if at all? One of the more interesting questions that comes to mind is, “Just how did he end up pulling off the ending?” Without giving anything away, let me just say that I didn’t know what to expect, and I got what I wasn’t expecting. Many kudos to Kitano for managing to “get it right” the first time instead of just demonstrating a potential to be a decent director that could get better at some later point in time._______________________ 1 This refers to the North American, Region 1 release of the Fox Lorber edition. 2 This again refers to the North American, Region 1 release of the Fox Lorber edition. Something to consider however, is that this film was also released through the same company on VHS. I have a sneaking suspicion that it was either not cleaned up for DVD release, was originally obtained from a poor master, or both.
© Copyright 2008 Bernard Robert Papenfuss
Below are stills from the trailer of the film, captured in sequential order. Click on any one of them to enjoy them and help them achieve their maximum potential. (You can also click on any of the above stills.)