The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - COPS VS THUGS (1975) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - COPS VS THUGS (1975)

cops vs thugs film review
A corrupt cop is caught between two warring Yakuza clans.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku

Starring: Bunta Sugawara, Tatsuo Umemiya, Hiroki Matsukata, Mikio Narita

cops vs thugs arrow video

For western viewers of today's generation, director Kinji Fukasaku is best known for his final work, 2000's Battle Royale, a movie indirectly responsible for the boom in dystopian Young Adult sci-fi movies with a premise lifted for the Hunger Games series. Older movie buffs in the west may know him for his work on prestigious international co-productions like the Pearl Harbour epic Tora! Tora! Tora!, and not so prestigious international co-productions like the cult rubber monster classic The Green Slime.

In his native Japan however, Fukasaku is best known as the director of a series of acclaimed 'Yakuza' crime thrillers, which have only recently begun to be discovered by cinephiles outside Asia, thanks to their influence on directors like Quentin Tarantino, whose Kill Bill movies drew heavily on both the imagery and soundtracks of his Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, and Gareth Evans, whose The Raid movies borrow the long take aesthetic of Fukasaku's visceral action choreography. At the forefront of introducing Fukasaku to the west is Arrow Video, the label releasing HD transfers of his Yakuza back catalogue over the past year. The latest to arrive is Cops Vs Thugs, a movie considered one of his best in his native land, but relatively unknown outside Asia.

cops vs thugs

The Japanese title may translate as Cops Vs Thugs, but 'Cops Vs Thugs?' may be a more fitting moniker, as there's a thin blue line between the two as presented in the grimy world of Fukasaku's gangland Japan. The movie opens with its anti-hero, corrupt cop Kuno (Bunta Sugawara), admonishing a group of young gang members for throwing their weight around in order to acquire free sushi. Forcing them to pay for the food, he then sends them on their way, knowing they intend carrying out a gun attack on a rival gang's night club - better the mobsters kill each other off, is his reasoning. It's an exhilarating and arresting opening that the subsequent movie sadly never lives up to.

cops vs thugs

The blaxploitation inspired wah-wah guitar that plays over the opening credits suggests we're in for some trashy '70s fun, but that's far from the case; Cops Vs Thugs is as bleak as action cinema gets, the sort of movie you'll need a shower after watching in order to wash off its stench of misanthropy.

There are so many characters in Fukasaku's drama, with more referred to throughout without appearing on screen, that you may need to take notes in order not to get lost in its labyrinthine plot. None of them are remotely likeable, which would be fine if they were interesting or unique, but for the most part they're simply crime movie stereotypes. The one identifiable personality trait that seems to cross both the camps of the film's title is bitterness; both the cops and the thugs are resentful of their low status, and determined to rise above their station no matter the human cost.

cops vs thugs

Along with the general misanthropy, there's a large smattering of misogyny and homophobia to remind us it's a product of both a less sensitive era and a nation struggling with the mass emasculation of WWII. Every female non-character serves only as the victim of a rape or physical beating, and a mob boss who appears to have 'turned gay' (sheesh!) during his time in prison becomes an object of cruel comedy from the film and disgust from its characters.

With a lack of interesting protagonists and some jarring tonal shifts - a beheading, complete with a not so convincing rubber decapitated noggin, would be more at home in a Godfrey Ho quickie - the overwhelming bleakness of Cops Vs Thugs, combined with its over-written plotting, makes for tough going. One for hardcore devotees of the Yakuza genre only. I'm off for a shower now.

We get a commentary by film scholar Tom Mes, an introduction by film scholar and Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane, a new visual essay on Fukasaku's career by Marc Walkow and a trailer. As is the case with Arrow the packaging features a reversible sleeve and informative booklet.

Cops Vs Thugs is released by Arrow Video on dual format blu-ray/DVD May 22nd.