Cops vs. Thugs (1975)

About a dozen years ago a friend of mine’s little brother gave me some Japanese movies on dvd to check out. Among the pile were the five films of the Yakuza Papers directed by Kinji Fukasaku. I watched all five films in quick succession and really enjoyed their gritty portrayal of yakuza life. Fast forward to today and I’ve finally watched another Fukasaku yakuza film, Cops. vs. Thugs thanks to Arrow Video.

Cops vs. Thugs is about various yakuza families and their lives within the underworld. We meet our “hero,” a cop who regularly associates and befriends the yakuza. He’s heavily involved in their goings on but through his guidance and the help of other similarly associated cops, the yakuza families don’t war with each other. They quietly break the law, running their various schemes. That is until violence erupts once more and a new boss is sent in to clean up the mess. He knows nothing about the yakuza world and only makes matters worse. The violence reaches a fever pitch and it’s up to our hero to help diffuse the situation and try to calm down the clans once again.

Cops vs. Thugs is a film that requires full attention. I knew this from previously watching the Yakuza Papers films. Cops vs. Thugs moves fast and features several characters whose position isn’t always clear. That full attention pays off though by providing a complex portrayal of the world of the yakuza and the police who try to keep the peace to protect the citizens. The cops aren’t totally clean either, in fact, most are pretty damn dirty. They have to partially live the life of the yakuza which means some moral compromises along the way. Think Goodfellas but without the cops having to be undercover. The film is gritty and real with energetic camera work and a great score. Despite the fact that there isn’t much action in the film (this is a crime film, not a martial arts flick), it still has a breathless vibe to it. The runtime blew past and the whole film had me captivated.

If you enjoy yakuza films, mafia flicks, or gritty 70’s cinema, I recommend Cops vs. Thugs. It has a big reputations for being one of the best examples of the genre and I have to agree: it’s a great flick.

The blu, as always with Arrow Video, looks fantastic. The print is crisp and clean without any damage. The special features include a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane, a new visual essay on cops & criminals in Fukasaku’s works by film scholar Tom Mes and a booklet with liner notes.