Maverick Japanese cop Detective Azuma (Takeshi Kitano) kicks ass first, asks questions later. His unethical, often brutal methods enrage his superiors even though they get results. Partnered with a callow, by-the-book rookie named Kikuchi (Makoto Ashikawa), Azuma investigates a series of drug-related murders while coping with his mentally-unbalanced sister Akari (Maiko Kawakami) who is fresh out of hospital. Azuma discovers his friend and fellow cop Iwaki (Sei Hiraizumi) is supplying drugs from within the police force to yakuza boss Nito (Ittoku Kishibe). Then Iwaki is murdered setting Azuma on a collision course with Nito's maniacal henchman Kiyohiro (Hakuryu).
Violent Cop, or in Japanese: Sono otoko, kyobo ni tsuki (Warning, this man is wild), was the first film directed by 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano. Already a force to be reckoned with within the Japanese entertainment industry as a stand-up comedian, character actor, artist, television presenter and polemicist, he went on to become arguably Japan's most feted filmmaker of the Nineties. Originally Takeshi was only going to act in Violent Cop but assumed directing duties after Kinji Fukasaku fell ill. Looking to establish himself as a dramatic actor he abandoned the film's original comedic intent and radically altered the script penned by award-winning mystery novelist Hisashi Nozawa. Even so a strain of beyond pitch black comedy runs throughout Violent Cop. Takeshi's output trades in a truly idiosyncratic combination of sadistic violence, whimsical humour, humanism and nihilism. His most emblematic image arose later in the gangster film Sonatine (1993) wherein a grinning Takeshi puts a gun to his head and merrily blows his brains out. Takeshi brought nihilistic chic out of the Japanese underground film scene (e.g. Koji Wakamatsu, Sogo Ishii) into the mainstream paving the way for other transgressive yet box-office friendly auteurs like Shion Sono, Takashi Miike and Takashi Ishii along with a host of lesser filmmakers whose grueling, misogynistic, bleak output wholly lacked his humanism.
Opening as a benignly smiling old homeless man is brutalized by sneering street punks, an act that prompts Azuma into a revenge attack on one young hoodlum, Takeshi keeps his camera at ground level during violent scenes so viewers share the victim's pain and humiliation. The tone of detached bemusement sustained throughout Violent Cop denies viewers the vicarious thrill of vigilante justice one typically expects from a Dirty Harry (1971) clone. Instead the film daringly implies the rogue cop thrives on violent crime because it allows him to vent his frustration and alienation through vigilante violence. When Azuma mysteriously appears at the youth's home and slaps him silly one cannot help but wonder, if he saw him attack the old man then why did he not intervene? As in the shock scene where an innocent girl gets her head blown apart by an assassin aiming at Azuma, the cop is less interested in the victims of crime than the opportunity to strike back.
It is worth noting that back in 1989 watching 'Beat' Takeshi rough up suspects and gun down mob hit-men was as jarring for Japanese audiences as seeing Benny Hill kick ass as a Dirty Harry clone. People often think the Japanese respond positively to bleak films but Takeshi's work did not click with the public until later, more humorous works like Kids Return (1996) and Kikujiro (1998). Here Takeshi pays lip service to the hard-boiled thriller plot, including cop clichés like the maverick paired with a straight arrow or scolded by his superior for use of excessive force, right down to the hackneyed, slightly offensive use of rape as a motivator for vengeance. Especially well realized is an extended chase sequence that begins on foot then escalates into a car chase scored, uniquely, with tranquil jazz. Daisaku Kume's soundtrack is particularly accomplished making memorable use of Erik Satie's Gnossienne No. 1. Yet Takeshi is foremost interested in scrutinizing the characters. For men like Azuma and Kikyohiro, who is just as emotionally numb yet humanized by a tender if masochistic relationship with his boss that mirrors the cop's connection with his sister, violence is the only means by which they can interact with a world seemingly indifferent to their pain. The film climaxes, logically if devastatingly, in an act of mutual destruction that goes beyond Dirty Harry before an especially cynical sting in the tail. Takeshi's far more lyrical and engaging films were yet to come but what is interesting about Violent Cop is how his idiosyncratic film-making style (oblique editing, jarring freeze frames, long silences punctuated by shock bursts of violence, slow-motion set-pieces set to lovely piano ballads) emerged fully formed.
Japanese director/actor/writer/comedian and one of the best-known entertainers in Japan. Entered showbiz in the early 70s as a stand-up comic, and began acting in the early 80s, his most famous early role being in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. As a director, Kitano's debut was 1989's Violent Cop, a gritty police thriller. The success of this led Kitano to explore similar cop/gangster territory in films like Boiling Point, Sonatine and the award-winning Hana-bi, all of which combined graphic violence, intense drama and off-beat comedy, while Kitano's more light-hearted side was revealed in the likes of the sex comedy Getting Any?, the autobiographical Kids Return and the whimsical Kikujiro.
If 2000's US-set Brother was a disappointment and Dolls visually stunning but hard-going, 2003's Zatoichi was a fast-moving, blood-splattered samurai romp. After a run of personal, financially unsuccessful art films, he returned to familiar territory with the Outrage series. As an actor, Kitano (credited as 'Beat' Takeshi, his comedy-persona) has appeared in films including Battle Royale, Gonin, Johnny Mnemonic, Gohatto and Takashi Miike's Izô.