Cops vs Thugs Review

Moving away from the rather more glamorous and romanticised image of gangsters depicted in Japan Organised Crime Boss (1969) and Street Mobster (1972), Fukasaku used Cops vs Thugs (1975) to further explore not only the darker side of the criminal underworld, but also corrupt society that allowed it to flourish, blurring the lines between straightforward depictions of good and evil and showing a far more complex and morally ambiguous society than in previous films.

"Gangsters and cops are the same. They both respect codes and laws. They were drop-outs who couldn’t get good jobs", says one character during Cops vs Thugs and that just about sums up what the film is about. Set in Kurashima in 1963, Cops vs Thugs claims to be based on real-life events, and the film has a certain grim air of believability. The Kawade gang are supported by congressman Tomoyasu, while the Ohara group enjoy the favour of the local police force. Kenji Hirotani is the acting leader of the Ohara group, planning a scam over the purchase of some land, with the police force helpfully turning a blind eye. However, boss Ohara comes out of prison a changed man and wants to legitimise the organisation. When a new straight-laced lieutenant, Kaida, is brought into the police-force things really get shook-up.

The film seems less focussed than other Fukasaku films due to there being no one lead character, but the various threads gradually fall into place leading to a dramatic and tense stand-off finale. All the trademark Fukasaku stylistic tricks are here, well honed and effectively used. The acting throughout is superb, with good characterisation and realistic characters with complex moral ambiguities. Cops who are on the side of law and justice now, once lived on black market rice as children in the post-war years when there was no other choice. Are they any better than those who enjoy the hospitality of gangsters because of the current ecomomic situation? The press are similarly vilified for their hypocrisy. Do they report in the interests of justice or are they just filling newspaper space to sell ads and compromising their integrity to please their advertisers?

It’s not a pretty film –the director holds back at nothing, with scenes of rape, brutal stabbings, decapitations and violent gang warfare, going full-out to depict a corrupt and morally bankrupt society where there is little difference between those who break the law and those who are supposed to be upholding it. It’s a bleak piece of social commentary under the guise of a brutal and violent action thriller.

Cops vs Thugs doesn’t have the worst picture among the Eureka Fukasaku releases, but that doesn’t make it good. The transfer is anamorphic, but again the 2.35:1 image looks squashed, stretching the picture to almost 2.00:1. Colours are rather faded and there is the usual cross-colouration and flare. The image is a touch soft, but not to the degree where it is blurred and fuzzy as in Yakuza Graveyard. There are plenty of artefacts if you look for them, but if you are prepared to put up with the technicial deficiencies of the transfer, Cops vs Thugs holds up pretty well considering the poor quality of the source material.

The soundtrack is the original mono presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and it is reasonably effective considering the limitations of the original source.

Photo Gallery
The Photo Gallery is good, displaying a dozen or so black and white promo stills from the film.

Director’s Profile
The same short profile of the director is presented here, which helps put the film into perspective with the other films in the series as well as giving a good overview of the director’s career. Cops vs Thugs was one of four films Fukasaku made in 1975.

Cops vs Thugs is an excellent gangster thriller from a director who at this stage in his career had refined his stylistic skills to be perfectly in service of the film and was able to balance an angry condemnation of the society he saw around him with an unromanticised yet thrilling depiction of gangland violence. The DVD is somewhat lacking on the technical side (to say the least), but I wouldn’t let that put you off what is a superb piece of vital and hard-hitting film-making.

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