Now on Blu-ray: Early Kitanos VIOLENT COP, BOILING POINT and KIDS RETURN
The last year has been great for Kitano Takeshi fans. While the director's recent output hasn't exactly set the world on fire outside of his two Outrage films, home video collectors have encountered a wealth of treasures as his early films have become available on Blu-ray for the first time in 2016.
Most of these features came to us by way of UK specialist label Third Window Films, who've previous released Hana-bi, Kikujiro, Dolls, and A Scene at the Sea, and continue their winning record with Kids Return. However, now there's another label helping to fill in the gaps, Film Movement with their recent releases of Kitano's first two directorial features, Violent Cop and Boiling Point. Are they worth the upgrade? Check out our thoughts below.
In 1989, Japanese comedian Takeshi Kitano burst onto the international film scene with his first work as a director, Violent Cop. The project was originally written and conceived to be directed by legendary underworld auteur Fukasaku Kinji ( Battles Without Honor & Humanity), but when Kitano’s TV shooting schedule interfered with production, Fukasaku stepped away from the project, opening the door for Kitano to take the director’s chair. The result is an incredibly violent and unusual look at Japanese police as an extension of the kind of macho bravado that spawned the yakuza genre with which both Fukasaku and Kitano have become associated over time. It’s a stunning film that not only introduced the world to Kitano, who was largely a local comedy phenomenon in Japan, but also changed the way that the Japanese viewed the actor/director.
Violent Cop , or as its delirious Japanese title says, Sono otoko, kyōbō ni tsuki (That Man, He Is Dangerous), is the story of a renegade cop who goes off the rails in his single-minded pursuit of a particular kind of justice. Crazy cop stories had already been a staple of western genre films for decades, but Japanese films seemed to have been a bit more staid in their portrayal of the men and women (mostly men) committed to maintaining order. When cops did go rogue, for the most part, it’s because the story was focused on the villain and their redemption or revenge. Violent Cop turns the tables and makes the protagonist a largely unsympathetic, but strangely relatable, hot-head determined to gain vengeance for wrongs committed against himself and his family. It’s a bold move, from a script largely rewritten day by day when Kitano came on board, that creates an unforgettable central performance from the actor and his capable supporting cast.
Even though he’s on the proper side of the law in Violent Cop, Kitano was already crafting his iconic on-screen persona with this performance. Kitano has made an acting career of portraying stone-faced villains who bottle up their rage until it reaches a level that can no longer be contained, usually erupting in spectacularly bloody violence. In Violent Cop, his officer-on-the-edge portrayal of Azuma is one of carefully moderated madness. He is constantly needled throughout the film by villains and his own bosses alike, leading him to explode in all directions while attempting to make things right in his own extremely vicious way. It’s a role that Kitano would later layer into his performances as Yakuza bosses and underlings in the years after, and it’s one that he’s very nearly perfected.
Independent US distributor Film Movement, mostly known until now for their monthly DVD club that shares under-the-radar indie films with fans at home, has taken up the challenge of releasing this film, along with Kitano’s follow-up Boiling Point on Blu-ray for the first time anywhere. The result is a solid presentation that represents a demonstrable step up in quality from the available DVD versions of Violent Cop. The presentation isn’t exactly reference quality, but there is a noticeable bump in image quality both in terms of fine detail clarity and color fidelity. The audio presentation is similarly improved with an uncompressed LPCM stereo track that delivers clear, sharp dialogue, and does what it can with one of Kitano’s least compelling background scores. Overall, it’s a definite upgrade from any of the DVD versions previously available.
In order to add a bit of context to the film, Film Movement commissioned a new behind the scenes featurette titled, That Man Is Dangerous: The Birth of Takeshi Kitano. The featurette brings together several key players on the film, with Kitano being noticeably absent, to tell the story of Violent Cop from different perspectives. It’s an interesting look at the film’s production, cramming numerous anecdotes about Kitano’s directing style as well as the daily struggles of the performers to keep up with him on set into a 20 minute overview. I would’ve loved even more, but I’m happy with this. Also included is a booklet with a nice essay from Tom Vick that further contextualizes not only the film, but also Kitano’s unique place in Japanese culture for fans unfamiliar with his work and history.
Violent Cop on Blu-ray is not the kind of visual feast or auditory revelation that we see from bigger, more expensive restorations, but it is a good upgrade from other presently available options that adds context to a film that holds up very nicely 27 years down the road. I wish the cover art weren’t so awful, but it’s a small price to pay (besides, I’ll only ever see the spine on my shelf, so all is well). Recommended.