Kinji Fukasaku’s COPS VS THUGS – The Blu Review – We Are Movie Geeks

Blu-Ray Review

Kinji Fukasaku’s COPS VS THUGS – The Blu Review

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Review by Roger Carpenter

Director Kinji Fukasaku and writer Kazuo Kasahara, both of the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, team up with Fukasaku’s favorite yakuza star, Bunta Sugawara—also of Battles Without Honor and Humanity fame—to create the kinetic yakuza drama COPS VS THUGS.

Two rival gangs vie for a lucrative land deal and it’s up to the cops to keep the balance.  Detective Kuno (Sugawara) has forged an unlikely relationship with up-and-coming gangster Hirotani (Hiroki Masukata) of the Ohara gang, thus ensuring they have a competitive edge over their rivals, the Kawade gang.  But when violence erupts between the two gangs over the land deal, it is up to Lt. Kaida (Tatsuo Umemiya) to settle the score once and for all.  Unfortunately, Lt. Kaida is a by-the-book cop, which doesn’t sit well with the thugs as they are used to Detective Kuno’s more relaxed dealings with the gangs.  This puts a strain on the friendship between Kuno and Hirotani, culminating in a final standoff between the two.

Along the way there are myriad beatings, car chases, bar raids, shootouts, and sexual trysts.  Fukasaku gained notoriety with the use of a handheld camera which allowed him to get right in the midst of the action and gave these thrillers a documentary feel to them that became widely popular in Japan.  All the standard trademarks are there:  the constantly moving camera, shaky handheld views, and quick zooms that put the viewer directly into the action.  It makes for a frenetic and violent drama.  In fact, the film is perhaps most famed for a scene in which a young gangster is beaten and stripped nude.  The scene was considered almost too realistic and violent, but in fact, that’s because the actor asked Fukasaku to allow the two “cops” to actually hit him during the scene.  It’s realistic because, well…it’s real.  It’s also humiliating as the cops strip the young thug who is trying to keep some modicum of privacy even while he takes punches to the face and kicks to the ribs.  Even though the young man is nothing but a thug and a patsy (he’s turning himself in for something he didn’t do), you can’t help but feel badly for him.

The title implies the police are constantly at odds with the yakuza, so it’s cops vs. thugs.  And that holds true, especially towards the end of the movie as Lt. Kaida disrupts the fragile peace between the police and the gangs by insisting the police follow the rules.  This inflexible policy is at odds with the uneasy truce the cops in the streets had with the yakuza and, predictably, the streets erupt into violence.  But the friendship between Detective Kuno and Hirotani blurs the lines between the cops and the thugs.  Kuno drinks on the gang’s tab and even shares the same women, overlooking some of the lesser crimes and feeding Hirotani scraps of information—just enough to keep ahead of the Kawade gang.  So the title is a neat twist on the familiar good guys vs. bad guys theme as well, questioning who is worse, the cops who look past the gang’s crimes or the gangs themselves.  It’s cops vs. thugs in that sense as well.

Fukasaku is perhaps most well-known in the west as the director of the Japanese sequences of Tora! Tora! Tora! as well as his final picture, the international hit Battle Royale.  He passed away of cancer shortly after the release of Battle Royale.  Cops Vs. Thugs was a break of sorts for Fukasaku, who was in the midst of creating yet another classic Japanese film series, the New Battles Without Honor and Humanity.  He would go on to create many other popular Japanese films like the comedy Fall Guy, which won a tremendous number of awards.  However, Cops Vs. Thugs still remains a raw, sex- and violence-filled crowd-pleaser.

Arrow Video releases Cops Vs. Thugs in a special 2-disc edition, with both Blu-Ray and standard DVD presentations of the full film.  Special features include an appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane as well as a visual essay exploring the relationships between cops and criminals in Fukasaku’s work by Japanese film scholar Tom Mes.  Both featurettes shed light on Fukasaku’s methods and thinking and help put the film into the proper context. Also included is a theatrical trailer and, for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Patrick Macias.

You can purchase the BD/DVD combo through Amazon or directly from Arrow at