by Anthony King
Takeshi Kitano's Violent Cop (1989) made my top 25 film discoveries of 2022. It's gritty yet filled to the brim with neon; dangerous-feeling yet comforting knowing we're in the capable of hands of its star/director; boundary-pushing as we're stuck following around a, you guessed it, violent cop, one who we end up cheering for but pitying at the same time. It's pure brilliance. Little did I know, 13 years prior a film about a cop that borders-on-if-not-outright-is a dirty cop was released by Japan's Toei Company.
Tetsuya Watari (Tokyo Drifter, 1966) stars as Kuroiwa, a detective who toes the line between being on the take and being on the up and up as a cop. Even though his superiors are clearly on the wrong side, Kuroiwa keeps one foot firmly planted between good and evil. As of now there is peace between the different yakuza gangs but the cops seem to think that's bad for cop business. As the top brass begin to shake things up between the warring factions, Kuroiwa is in the middle attempting to keep the peace. On top of this, our violent cop is starting to fall for the wife of an imprisoned gang boss named Keiko, played to the hilt by Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood, 1973). A little bit Violent Cop, a little bit Breathless (1960), Yakuza Graveyard could easily sit with director Kinju Fukasaku's best work that includes the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series (1973-1974) and Battle Royale (2000).Big Time Gambling Boss (1968). The cinematography by Fukasaku's frequent collaborator Toru Nakajima puts us right in the action with much of the film shot on handheld. Running through darkened corridors only to burst into raging daylight gets the viewer's heart racing as we're right alongside detective Kuroiwa chasing the bad guys. When shakedowns or shootouts occur the camera is tilted askew sending our equilibrium spiraling. The film feels chaotic at times, as if we were smack dab in the middle of the action, the camera frantically scrambling out of harm's way. As in Violent Cop, we're inside a gritty crime film not unlike the Italian poliziotteschi films of the '60s and '70s immediately followed by calm and quiet where scintillating neons dance off wet streets and reflect their radiant, flashing colors on glass.
Like Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless, Watari's charm as an actor carries into his dirty cop persona on screen, allowing the viewer, like Keiko, to fall head over heels for him. The air of mystery surrounding Kuroiwa is magnetic, like its own atmosphere that pulls us into his orbit. Knowing full well we're in for the most dangerous time of our life, we willingly and blindly throw caution (and our well being) to the wind, grab Kuroiwa by the hand, and hang on for dear life. Maybe we get smacked around a little bit and men with guns unrelentingly hunt us down, but our hearts won't let go. The way Watari plays Kuroiwa is one of the most intriguing things about the film. If he's not beating the shit out of guys on the street or sweeping desks clean of flotsam in a fit of rage, Kuroiwa keeps his head down, literally. It's as if he's ashamed of the sort-of double life he's leading. He's having an affair with a married woman. He's friends with some of the baddest dudes in Osaka. So he keeps to himself most of the time.
Blu-ray release date: May 16, 2023
96 minutes / 1976
PCM Mono (Japanese)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
Limited edition 32-page booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mika Ko on the representations of Koreans in the yakuza film, and new translated re-prints of a contemporary review and writing by screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara
“The Rage and the Passion” – a visual essay by critic Tom Mes on Meiko Kaji and Kinji Fukasaku's collaborations (2022, 12 min.)
Appreciation by filmmaker Kazuya Shiraishi (2022, 15 min.)
Gallery of promotional material
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow
Removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings
Japan has a close historical connection with the Korean Peninsula. It was a colony of Japan for forty years, up till the end of WWII. It is a fraught history, especially during the WWII period. Manchuria was taken over by Japan through invasion in the the early 1930s, and an attempt to take over most of eastern China began from there in 1937. Millions of Chinese would perish during the conflict. Even now Japan has a difficult time acknowledging the bad deeds it perpetrated against its neighbors.ReplyDelete