Violent Cop
(Sono otoko, kyobo ni tsuki)
 
Production company: Bandai Media Division, Shochiku-Fuji Company (1989)
Director: Kitano Takeshi
Assistent director: Tenma Toshihiro, Tsukinoki Takashi
Producer: Ichiyama Shozu, Nabeshima Hisao, Yoshida Takio
Script: Nozawa Hisashi, Kitano Takeshi (uncredited)
Based upon: Working script by Nozawa Hisashi
Cinematography: Sasakibara Yasushi
Editor: Kamiya Nabutake
Score: Kume Daisaku (based partly on Gnossienne No.1 by Eric Satie)
Production Design: Mochizuki Masuteru, Sawaji Kazuyoshi
Actors: "Beat" Takeshi, Kawakami Maiko, Ashikawa Makoto, Sano Shiro, Hiraizumi Sei
Duration: 103 minutes
Premiere: 1989-08-11
Notes: The original title "Sono otoko, kyobo ni tsuki" means "Watch out, this man is dangerous". The common known title "Violent Cop" is the 1998 US rename.
  

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 it be?"

An example of one of many static frame compositions. This 57 second static sequence begins with Kitano entering the frame in a ELS and ends when he is in CU.

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 public."

Azuma (Kitano) at his desk

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 him.

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 further.

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.

Vengeance has a face

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 investigating.

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 reluctantness.

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.

Sono otoko, kyobo ni tsuki

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.

by Henrik Sylow 2004. All rights are reserved by Henrik Sylow and Kitanotakeshi.com.