Cops Vs. Thugs Review
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Mikio Narita, Tatsuo Umemiya, Hideo Murota
The friendship between a streetwise cop Kunou (Sugawara) and the acting head of the Ohara yakuza family Hirotani (Matsukata) is put to the test in the crime ridden city of Kurashima. The police and yakuza maintain a delicate relationship, thanks mostly to a give and take relationship between Kunou and Hirotani that keeps bloodshed at a minimum and violence low. When a new family begins a land play, their leader Kawade (Narita) finds the backing of highly influential people. With the addition of a straight laced and by the books head detective (Umemiya), the truce between cops and thugs has never been on shakier ground.
One of Kinji Fukasaku’s landmark films, Cops Vs. Thugs ranks, in my opinion, as one of greatest crime films of Japanese cinema. Fukasaku crafts a blisteringly paced drama that is equal parts action, sleaze, drama, and character study. Sugawara dominates his screen time with a cool demeanor that rarely cracks. He’s sure of his status in the world and truly likes and trusts Hirotani. A realist, he knows how things operate on the streets and his one real vice as a dreamer is to see it maintained, with Hirotani taking on a more permanent leadership role. Sugawara is a ferocious presence as Hirotani; he caps his typically wild and boisterous persona with a true loyalty to his family and friends, Kunou included. It’s one of Matsukata’s finest and most memorable roles in a career filled with them.
The supporting cast is terrific all around; from Narita’s slimy Kawade, Umemiya’s clear thinking Kaida, to Murota’s young and impetuous Tsukahara. While many crime films tend to saturate their stories with characters, Fukasaku’s own Battles Without Honor and Humanity series being a prime example, Cops Vs. Thugs never makes you unsure about the character loyalties and it’s pared down focus truly helps the film.
A picture that is full of memorable scenes; from the infamous and shocking interrogation scene to the bonkers street warfare between gangs, Cops Vs. Thugs is almost everything I want out of 70s Japanese cinema. It’s truly a gem of a film and though it rarely gets mentioned among the greatest Japanese films of all time, it truly deserves its place right at the top among other much more discussed pictures.
Special Thanks to Arrow Video for providing a viewing copy!