Blu-ray Review: Cops vs Thugs

Director Kinji Fukasaku pretty much owns the Japanese mobster cinema on same the level that Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola dominate in America mafia films. His Battles Without Honor and Humanity was a five theatrical films that explored various elements of the Yakuza. The films were so successful, he eventually returned with another three installments. But in between those series, Kinji made an unrelated Yakuza tale that mixes government, police and crooks. Cops vs Thugs goes deep into how men above and below want to control the soul of a city.

Two Yakuza groups are in a major turf battle in the city. Kawade have their claws in various government officials. This gives them a certain level of protections. Ohara have placed their strategic alliance with the police. They can use the cops to rough the competition and mess up Kawade’s big plans. This is an arrangement that is reaching its breaking point. This is a film that dares to show us a world where there’s not a hero in sight. Everyone is dirty to a degree. Undercover cop Tokumatsu Kuno (Bunta Sugawara) seems like he’d be out to stop trouble when he sneaks up on a station wagon filled with mob muscle. But he merely shakes down the crew for money and swipes a nice cigarette lighter because he knows they’re going on a suicide mission to attack the rival’s nightclub. There is no Untouchable that’s going to clean everything up. This is about bad guys fighting for power and control. Nobody is looking for salvation so much as survival as the underworld war escalates. The big battle between all the groups comes with a real estate deal. This is a massive turf battle that won’t be solved at a real estate lawyer’s office.

Cops vs Thugs gets deep in the Yakuza life. It’s a difficult film to watch because there is no obvious hero that you hope will save the day. You are left hoping that at the end, the city can survive so much crookedness and criminality. The police aren’t going to stop them. This is more than The Godfather done Japanese style. This the Asian equivalent to The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Thugs vs Cops is a fight where you don’t know who deserves to win.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The high resolution transfer brings out the gritty and scummy locations. There are black and white flashback stills that bring out the grain. The audio is LPCM 2.0 mono in Japanese. The levels are fine for the talking and fighting. The movie is subtitled in English.

Beyond the Film: Cops vs. Thugs (9:13) allows Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane explain how the film was developed.

All Under the Gun (13:39) is Tom Mes’ visual essay dealing with the underworld films of Fuakasaku. The director’s final work was the masterpiece Battle Royale.

Behind the Scenes Footage (4:59) shows how Fukasaku brought the pain to the screen.

Theatrical Trailer (3:16) highlights the mobster mayhem.

Arrow Video presents Cops vs Thugs. Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku. Screenplay by: Kazuo Kasahara. Starring: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Tatsuo Umemiya, Tôru Abe, Tatsuo Endô, Reiko Ike. Running Time: 100 minutes. Rated: R. Released: May 23, 2017.

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