It all began as a comedy. Kinji Fukasaku, who later would direct Kitano in
"Battle Royale", was assigned to direct Hisashi Nozawa?s comedy about a Dirty
Harry-ish cop and the comedian "Beat" Takeshi was casted to play the lead.
Having a four week shooting schedule, Fukasaku insisted that Kitano was
available for the entire period; So when Fukasaku learned, that Kitano only was
available for periods of ten days, due to his television commitments, he
withdrew from the production. Having no director, Nabeshima considered dropping
the project. Kitano joked and suggested that he could do it. Nabeshima thought
about it and asked if he wanted to direct, Kitano said "Sure... How hard can
Soon Kitano realised that never having directed before, nor knowing anything
about movies, except how to watch them, was quiet a problem. The problem became
even bigger, at least to Kitano, because the crew had experience and insisted on
using it. Kitano was against moving the camera and insisted on the use of a
static camera, since, as he puts it, "When you move the camera, you get stuff
into frame, you never wanted there." Another thing Kitano insisted on was
long takes. Close ups easy last 10 seconds, medium shots easy go on for 20
seconds and the shot where Azuma (Kitano) walks onto the bridge and into the
frame lasts 57 seconds
"I had to fight with my crew to get the scenes shot with very little
movement", Kitano says and continues, "As the film came out, everyone
told me, that I didn't knew how to make a film."
Another, perhaps bigger, problem was the script. It was comedy, goofy comedy
even. Kitano was then very concerned about the audience recognizing his acting
skills and he didn't feel that a comedy would allow him to act nor allow the
audience to abstract from his comic TV personality. So he rewrote the script,
removed all comedy and turned it into a drama.
During the opening, eagerly awaiting the reaction of the audience, he snuck
into the cinema and became very disappointed. The audience laughed whenever he
appeared on the screen. From that moment on, Kitano was determined only to play
dark characters, never to do comedy on screen. As he later, with a smile on his
face, explained on the matter: "It took me ten years of playing serial
killers and rapists to be perceived as a serious actor amongst the Japanese
In a recent interview, Kitano looks back on those days with mixed emotions.
While he believes it to be a great film, he feels embarrassed. Kitano explains:
"It was shot a long time ago, when I didn't knew how to make a film. At least
now, I am beginning to grasp what filmmaking is all about, gradually.", and
continues, "So I watched it again the other day on video, so that I could
comment on it during the interview, as I had forgotten almost everything about
it. Frankly, I couldn't bear to watch it. It's like being forced to watch
yourself when you were a kid. I felt so embarrassed."
Azuma (Kitano) is a rogue homicide detective, a loner without respect or care
for neither his superiors nor police procedures, using violence and other
unethical methods to get results. The only thing he cares for is his sister
Akari, who just has been released from a psychiatric hospital and now lives with
Investigating the death of a drug dealer, Azuma discovers that Iwaki, his
closest friend and head of the crime prevention squad, is selling confiscated
drugs, in order to, as we later learn, secure his family, as he has terminal
cancer. When the yakuza learns that Azuma is on their track, they kill Iwaki and
make it look like a suicide. Doubting the suicide, Azuma begins to investigate
By persistent police work Azuma discovers, that the one responsible for the
death of now two drug dealers, and for Iwaki aswell, is Kiyohiro, who in turn is
the henchman for Nitou, a well respected businessman. He confronts Nitou with
his accusations, only to track then later to arrest Kiyohiro by planting drugs
in his apartment. Driven by anger, he beats Kiyohiro into a bloody pulp and even
shoots at him, before stopped.
Facing charges of wrongful arrest, planting evidence, beating up and
attempting to kill a prisoner, Azuma is fired. More so, the chief of police is
covering up that Iwaki sold drugs and was killed, by announcing his death to be
a suicide, to restore the public image. Azuma feels betrayed. As things couldn't
get worse, Kiyohiro has kidnapped his sister, to force him to stop
Having lost everything and feeling betrayed, he buys a gun and goes on a
personal vendetta, seeking justice in the only way he knows: By killing everyone
in his way.
"Violent Cop" is actually a quiet impressive debut. Its simple and static
compositions match the stark simplistic nature of both the characters and the
plot, even though it lacks discipline and at times are somewhat rigid.
While Kitano is reluctant to talk about his style and motifs, there are
elements visible (in hindsight): the duality of emotions (the emotional
pendulum), the duality towards pretending and the Kitano fatalism. Possibly the
need to be taken serious made Kitano write things for him important into the
script: If so, "Violent Cop" may well be a blueprint for Kitano motifs.
But the simplicity of "Violent Cop" has also lead to interpretations with not
present elements being read into it. Thus, the use of "straight into the camera"
compositions has been interpretated as an influence of Ozu and the use of
emotion- and expressionless acting is seen as adaptation of the ideas of
Bresson. It is highly questionable if Kitano did either. The simple
mise-en-scene is rather an product of Kitano being scared of losing control over
the frame. Equally so, the expressionless acting can be seen as Kitano being
scared of having an expression causing laughter. Rather than drawing influence
from Ozu and Bresson, I see this rigidity as a product of both fear and
The story itself, almost a skeleton narrative, is so straightforward, that it
borders clich?. Not surprising actually, as Kitano took the original script and
removed all comedy: What?s left is the naked simple narrative. This is also why,
that certain scenes feels like they don?t belong in the story. However the
simplicity works for the story, giving it strength. There are no hidden motifs,
men act on impulse and each meeting is a confrontation or a fight, either by
will or physical. Defying rules as restraining, they don?t apply to Azuma:
Hence, he is a Greimasian hero, free to act. Azuma is not only above the law, he
is above society, enforcing a personal code of honour and justice. It has more
than once been suggested, that Azuma is a modern reading of the Samurai Code,
which says, that a man should chose the time, place and method of his death. I
concur to such a reading.
In Haskell?s "I Walk Alone", Lancaster is the defying muscle in an
organisation lead by Douglas? brain. In Boorman?s "Point Blank", Marvin is the
defying muscle taking on a crime syndicate. The same in "Violent Cop". Kitano is
the defying cop, who relies on brute force to get justice done, while the police
force is more concerned about its image than law and order. Its this sensation
of transition, that makes "Violent Cop" such a strong and dark film.
The transition extends and is completed with the death of Azuma. While the
ending of "Violent Cop" notes upon a cyclic reading - Kikuchi, Azuma?s
apprentice, walks over the bridge in the exact same framing as Azuma did in the
beginning of the film - it is an illusion, as Kikuchi walks up to the new yakuza
boss, who shot Azuma, and is paid off. Quiet ambiguous, one has to ask: was
Kikuchi corrupt all along? Did he become corrupt after the death of Azuma? Was
Azuma?s death in vain? The ending stands open, as it is ambiguous.