September 18, 2006


COPS VS. THUGS (1975) After body slamming his way into the Japanese consciousness with his five BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY movies, Kinji Fukasaku decided to show the other side of the coin. He’d already mapped the geography of the modern day yakuza so now he needed to show things from the cops’ point of view. The result is two corruption-flavored poison pills - COPS VS. THUGS (1975) and YAKUZA GRAVEYARD (1976) - and both movies show the police as so morally compromised and rife with corruption that they may as well be the yakuza.

If you thought Abel Ferrara’s BAD LIEUTENANT touched the bottom of the long dark well of corrupt cop movies then Fukasaku’s two police flicks will show you that you merely reached the top of the layer of scum on the bottom of that particular pond. There’s a lot of digging through ooze you can do before you actually reach the lower depths.

COPS VS. THUGS is by far the more satisfying film with Kurashima cop, Kuno (Bunta Sugawara from the BATTLES series) maintaining a comfy truce with the yakuza via his sworn friendship with Ken (Hiroko Matsukata, also from the BATTLES series), a yakuza who actually appears to have an IQ. As tensions escalate between Ken’s Ohara family and the rival Kawade, Kuno steps up to the plate to help wipe out the Kawade organization.

YAKUZA GRAVEYARD sees new Osaka cop on the block, Kuroiwa (Tetsuya Watari, Suzuki Seijun’s TOKYO DRIFTER) go from being a two-fisted reformer to becoming a sworn brother of bullet-headed, ultraviolent yakuza, Iwata, who uses Kuroiwa’s death wish to enlist him in the Yamashiro family rolls as they take on the Nishida clan. Unfortunately, the Nishida’s are being supported by the police department and any attempt to take them on is liable to be met with insane levels of police-sponsored violence.

YAKUZA GRAVEYARD (1976)Outwardly the two flicks are carbon copies but in the details they distinguish themselves and which you prefer has more to do with you than any particular lack of quality in the movies. Both are shot through with eye-popping, apparently accidental frame compositions and both contain enough acting horsepower to wipe out the competition.

I prefer Bunta Sugawara’s Kuno (COPS VS. THUGS) to Tetsuya Watari’s Kuroiwa (YAKUZA GRAVEYARD). Kuno starts the movie a corrupt bastard and ends it the same way. He believes that the best way to police the yakuza is to become a yakuza and he delivers witnesses to them, looks the other way when they gun down their rivals, and breaks the law on a regular basis. Kuroiwa, on the other hand, starts out as the new cop in town who gets up the noses of his accomodationist new bosses by aggressively going after the yakuza, even the ones his department has promised to protect. Left out in the cold by his fellow cops he winds up looking like a refugee from a Euro arthouse film, lying on the floor of his filthy bedroom, laying any piece of tail that comes with trouble attached, and fueling up on tall brown bottles of Kirin Ichiban until he decides to swap sides and become a yakuza himself. His change in allegiance doesn’t seem particularly well-motivated and besides, he’s declaring that Iwata is his sworn brother and Iwata isn't a patch on the hyper-intelligent, dangerously handsome Ken from COPS VS. THUGS.

For your dollar, COPS VS THUGS has the far more believable storyline, but YAKUZA GRAVEYARD is the winner for far-out setpieces: drug induced freak-outs, enormous fights, so many drive-by shootings it starts to feel like a night out in Compton. Both movies are out on new discs from Kino and both of them look good. So light up a pack of cigarettes, crack open a Kirin and get ready to rumble as Fukasaku makes the point that cops, yakuza, politicians and the press are all just gangs fighting it out in the streets.

(Note: Kino's discs contain great transfers and the original trailers for the movies, but not much else)

September 18, 2006 at 02:08 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink


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