Director Takeshi Kitano – famous in Japan as the comedian ‘Beat’ Takeshi – has most recently been associated with his two ultra-violent Outrage films (2010/2012) with a third installment in the yakuza series rumored to be in production. However, his reputation for on-screen carnage was instigated as far back as his 1989 directorial debut Violent Cop. Ever since, his work has been compared to Takashi Miike and Kinji Fukasaku. This is perhaps no surprise, as Fukasaku was the first choice to direct Violent Cop (the story goes that he pulled out after finding it difficult to work around Kitano’s TV show commitments). The comparison is perhaps unfair, though, as Kitano has not just put violence in his films, but also humor, substantial characters, and beautiful imagery. Nonetheless, Violent Cop set the tone for many of his early productions, as reflected in the film’s Japanese title: “Warning: This Man is Wild”.
Kitano plays the lead character, police detective Azuma, who is unflinching in his use of violent methods to intimidate suspects and initiate arrests. The film slowly reveals that he has lost faith in the institution he works for, and society in general, as he has to care for his mentally unstable sister. Resigned to his role in the world, he not only hands out swift punishment, but also refuses to pay for most services (such as taxis and drinks at bars), meaning that he has few friends. The narrative parallels the character’s doomed personal outlook, as he is set on a collision course with a drug-dealing organization and its own brutal henchman Kiyohiro (chillingly played by Hakuryu), after discovering corruption at his own police station.
Azuma’s fate is inevitable from the beginning. After a homeless man is beaten to death by several youths, Azuma quickly follows their leader home, beats him, and forces him to confess, but is then reprimanded by his superiors. No music is used in this sequence, and it emphasizes the brutal actions of the teenagers and Azuma. It also Kitano’s stylistic influences clear. He has said that the films of William Friedkin and Sam Peckinpah are favorites of his, but the opening scenes also owe a lot to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). To some, these influences may seem unimaginative, though they show that Kitano is finding his creative feet through paying homage . The similarities between the message of Violent Cop and Kubrick’s film is further illustrated by later events in the narrative when Azuma’s stubborn pursuit of Kiyohiro and his superiors leads to his sister being kidnapped and used as bait to lure him out. Azuma may be aiming to apprehend criminals, but he still has to pay for his violent deeds, as does the protagonist in A Clockwork Orange. The only difference is that, with Kitano’s film, this outcome is identified as a likely consequence of today’s society and not a futuristic one.
Violent Cop is a grim treatise on the futility of violence and the effects of its escalation, within both law enforcement and the criminal underworld. It is not entirely grim, though, as some scenes are tinged with streaks of black comedy. Kitano apparently rewrote much of the script after being appointed the director, and was determined to remove all of the comedy – but some remains and the final lines of dialogue are in stark contrast to the climactic bloodbath has just been witnessed. The very last shots may seem clichéd, as they are reflections of some of the film’s earlier sequence. However, their amusing repetition hammers home the film’s stark message – that the modern world, and everyone that lives in it, is crazy. Violent Cop proves that Kitano’s eyes are able to identify several faults within Japan’s society with dramatic realism, and not just for laughs.