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Kino on Video presents
Cops Vs. Thugs (1975)

"Nothing good will come of being a yakuza."
- Kuno (Bunta Sugawara)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: June 26, 2006

Stars: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Tatsuo Umemiya, Mikio Narita, Seizo Fukumoto, Nobuo Kaneko, Yoko Koizumi, Ken Takakura, Reiko Ike, Shingo Yamashiro, Hideo Murota, Sanae Nakahara
Director: Kinji Fukasaku

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence, gore, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes
Run Time: 01h:40m:40s
Release Date: June 27, 2006
UPC: 738329046828
Genre: gangster

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+C+C+ D+

DVD Review

Kenji Fukasaku's Cops vs Thugs (Kenkei tai soshiki boryoku) came, like Yakuza Graveyard (also released by Kino this week), in the wake of his Yakuza Papers series. Consequently, he went in a different direction with both films, focusing instead on the police who must deal with the yakuza, rather than the criminals themselves. Fukasaku's general spotlight on corruption and amorality hasn't lessened however, as the police and government are usually just as corrupt as the yakuza they battle. In Cops vs Thugs, the title doesn't necessarily refer to police against yakuza, as the thugs are both within and without the police and the yakuza itself.

Kuno (Bunta Sugawara) is a detective in Kurashima City, where he maintains a friendship with Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata), a yakuza currently heading up the Ohara family while its leader is in jail. Kuno believes he understands the ways of the yakuza and believes also in letting them operate in their own way, without getting out of hand. His friendship with Hirotani becomes a matter of conflict when a gang war breaks out, part of a oil money landgrab scheme initiated by Tomoyasu, a local assemblyman, to benefit a rival yakuza (Mikio Narita). The war leads to the installation of Kaida (Tatsuo Umemiya), a no-nonsense anti-corruption cop, to head up the efforts against the yakuza. Suddenly, the formerly brazen Kuno is on the outside looking in, as his connections could lead to both he and Hirotani going down.

Fukasaku made plenty of outrageous films in his career, and this one slots right in among them, a boisterous cocktail of violence, sex, more violence, blood, and backstabbing. The plot is somewhat difficult to follow on occasion when watching the first time; Fukasaku's favored method of providing information via still photos and captions during the main credits might not stick with some viewers, but the overall plot is simple enough to follow, even if it's subtleties might be lost initially. Many might find the spicy bits enough to disregard any confusion in any event. The plot in and of itself is nothing out of the ordinary in the genre, as the forces of the law collide with the yakuza style of doing things and it all ends in tears for the ostensible heroes of the piece. For Fukasaku, it provides another chance to demonstrate the filthy means upon which power and money are earned, be it by yakuza or the legally chosen leaders of society.

A standard element in Fukasaku's yakuza films, indeed in many yakuza films, is the failure of the old ways against the "new Japan," often taking form in big business and government. Kuno and Hirotani do their part to carry on that tradition in their own ways, but it's doomed to fail; their dedication to outmoded ways seals both their fates and plays directly into the hands of their opponents. The supposedly straight-shooting Kaida understands the new Japan, as seen in the epilogue, where he has accepted a cushy job with the oil company headed by Hirotani's enemies. Kuno suffers for his refusal to adapt, and pays in terms of his career and his life.

The direction and performances all are assured; it seems to me an unsure actor would get swept away in one of these films, and everyone is on form here. Bunta is The Man, of course, a guy i could watch all day. Matsukata has more opportunity to go a little over the top, which he takes advantage of. Reiko Ike (strangely left unbilled on the box) has a small role that displays her, um, assets. Fukasaku's direction is immediate and gripping as usual. Toshiaki Tsushima's wakka-chikka '70s guitar-oriented score is primo stuff also.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original scope ratio, Cops vs Thugs looks only okay, but somewhat faded color and detail. The image seems a little too noisy in darker scenes, but I didn't catch any major artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono sounds much like the picture looks: okay, serviceable but nothing special. Not as bad as Yakuza Graveyard, but nothing to show off, either.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
  2. Insert with theatrical poster art
Extras Review: The anamorphic if unsubtitled trailer is the main extra; it's too bad this wasn't subbed, as it features Bunta and Matsukata narrating and looks pretty intense. A photo gallery with about 8 or 10 images wraps things up. The nicest touch is an insert replicating the original poster art.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Cops vs Thugs packs a brutal punch, with enough shootings, stabbings, and beatdowns to fuel couple more films. There's even a quality beheading on tap, head bouncing down stairs and all. It's in the service of a standard plot, but the acting and direction serve to make this film a visceral pleasure. Kino's DVD is okay if no great shakes, but it will do.


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