Violent Cop Review
Lets start the proceedings off with some background on this particular film, as however brief I make it here it is certainly more information than this discs biography section is willing to impart on the viewer! (and there is my first dig at this DVD!). Originally enlisted as lead actor on Violent Cop, Takeshi Kitano took over the directing reigns and almost completely rewrote the film after scheduling disagreements with the original director occurred. Kick starting his writer/director/actor career Violent Cop was the first film to capture his silent, contemplative style that is often overlooked in favour of the feverish bouts of extreme violence that dictate the majority of Takeshi titles.
Beginning with a scene that essentially defines the film as a whole we see a homeless man who is set upon by a gang of youths who both verbally and physically abuse him, leaving him in a state that will require medical attention. Witnessing the attack Azuma, the Violent Cop of the story and the role that Kitano excels in, chooses to follow one of the youths home rather than step in and help the victim. Once at the youths home Azuma beats the boy and demands he and his friends turn themselves in rather than simply arresting him. In just 10-minutes the bleak society in which the film is set, the general disregard for both the people he is assigned to protect and those he is assigned to catch, and of course the protocol Azuma must follow as a Policeman is portrayed to us in a way we will not soon forget. As the story progresses we witness Azuma as he continues his ways on his own agenda, leading the new rookie cop assigned to him on a downward spiral along with his other colleagues who all suffer through Azuma's negligence and disregard for anyone and everything.
As Azuma Kitano is quite superb but so good is his portrayal that the relatively simple plot soon becomes entirely predictable right up to the films quite brutal finale, as you simply know what Azuma is thinking. The saving grace however is the generally outstanding performances from not only Kitano but all those involved, while the minimalist directing style of Kitano is exemplified in his quite brutal portrayal of the many scenes of violence, all of which manage to both disturb and entertain in the darkest possible of ways exactly as they should. Finally an electronic variation on Eric Satie's 'Gnossienne No.1' is used throughout the film and counts as one of the few pieces of music I have heard that will engrave itself in your mind, the fact that it suits the films mood perfectly is just icing on the cake.
The first of many disappointments from the first title in MIA's 'Tokyo Bullets' range comes from the decidedly average 1:85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen transfer they have bestowed upon us. Pleasingly the print used for this 12-year old film is exceptionally clean with only the occasional white speck visible while dirt is practically no-where to be seen (but not quite non-existent). Sadly that is about all the praise I can manage for this release as every other part of the picture is merely 'better than VHS' quality but never to the point where the £19.99 RRP is justified.
Detail levels are sadly quite low with even foreground objects and characters lacking in the fine details we have come to expect from the DVD format. Backgrounds and objects within them are almost devoid of detail let alone any sign of fine detail, all of which is only made worse by the lack of Anamorphic Enhancement. Colours are muted but to be fair they are in line with how the film should look and display the bleak world Takeshi inflicts upon us correctly. Black levels are reasonable but again there is very little detail to be found due to the often grey and murky looking night time sequences while almost the entire film suffers from disappointing encoding defects in the form of smearing which is quite distracting on any of the faster paced scenes, but is even noticeable on slow camera pans. Finally, while there is nothing here that should immeasurably ruin your viewing experience there is also nothing here to heighten it which is what the DVD format has allowed publishers to do, sadly MIA have opted out of that opportunity.
The only soundtrack on offer is the Original Japanese Language track that is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. This audio track is of a reasonable quality although it suffers from a 'muddy' effect that ruins it slightly, and the lack of even a basic Pro-Logic mix that directs the voices through the centre speaker of your Surround Set-ups is disappointing to say the least!
English Subtitles are provided for both 4:3 and 16:9 Television set owners, the latter set of subtitles are repositioned for Widescreen Television set owners so they are visible in Zoom mode (and much like their inclusion on MIA's release of Stormriders they are welcome but no substitute for a good Anamorphic Transfer). Sadly the subtitles in both settings suffer from two problems. The first and most serious problem is the lack of them! It would appear that MIA have decided to only subtitle either what their translators could understand or what they feel is important to the narrative (though this argument does not hold up because they subtitle Radio Chatter!) all the while ignoring any incidental conversations between our characters! In most parts of the film you can take an educated guess at what is being said, in others it can be completely obvious but then as is to be expected, there are sections of the film you will simply miss out on. If I had to to give a percentage of lines that are not translated then I would say it is around the 20-25% mark which is quite disappointing even though it does not detract from the film as a whole it is still unforgivable. The second problem with the subtitles is related to the positioning whereby when a sentence is quite long the last two or three characters are actually cut off on your television screens! This occurs probably 3-5 times throughout the films running length and is again pure laziness while the 'repositioned' 16:9 subtitles are still too low resulting in Widescreen owners having to tweak their finely tuned Zoom modes!
So lacking in worthwhile extra features is this disc that I will start this section by mentioning the Animated Menus that are well presented and showcase various 'violent' scenes from the movie as you move from screen to screen. In the Special Features Menu you will find the Original Japanese Theatrical Trailer that is rather unsurprisingly presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen. Focusing very much on the violent scenes from the movie I suggest you do not watch this immediately before the film (if its your first viewing) as it contains significant spoilers that will stay fresh in your mind. Sadly MIA have decided to not subtitle this Trailer and while it is no big loss, it certainly showcases their laziness on this release yet again and as it contains some original dialogue the loss is even more annoying (look to the Momentum release of Hana-Bi for a subtitled edition of the Violent Cop Trailer).
Further extra features include a woefully inadequate Biography/Filmography that is laughably short of information while the Production Stills Gallery contains just 20 pictures (none of which are particularly interesting). Finally we have the Tokyo Bullet Previews that includes the Theatrical Trailers for a further four titles that will appear on the Tokyo Bullets range. Presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen at a 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio the trailers are: Gonin (starring Takeshi Kitano and released alongside this disc); Boiling Point and Sonatine (both Written, Directed by and Starring Takeshi Kitano); and finally Black Angel (a film which looks to be about a gun-toting female assassin).
Takeshi Kitano's fine directorial debut has sadly been given one of the worst DVD Releases of the year and due to the high £19.99 Retail price I simply cannot recommend it. Violent Cop is a superb film that must be seen but for now I can only suggest you either rent it or wait for this MIA release to become available as part of a sale!