Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: May 23, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 100 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 Japanese Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.36:1

Notes: Arrow Video also includes a DVD copy of the film in this package.


Cops Vs. Thugs is considered by many critics to be Kinji Fukasaku’s greatest single-film achievement in the yakuza genre. The film was made at the height of popularity of Toei Studios’ jitsuroku boom: realistic and modern crime films that were based on true stories from contemporary headlines. Returning to the screen after completing their Battles without Honor and Humanity series, Fukasaku once again joined forces with Kazuo Kasahara (screenwriter), Toshiaki Tsushima (composer), Bunta Sugawara, and Hiroki Matsukata to create one of the crowning achievements of his career. The hard-boiled classic is still ranked as one of the best Japanese films of the 1970’s. The film is set in the southern Japanese city of Kurashima as a tough-as-nails detective named Kuno (Sugawara) enforces a detente between the warring Kawade and Ohara gangs. Kuno is best friends with the Ohara gang’s lieutenant, Hirotani (Matsukata), and understands that there are no clear lines in the underworld. Everything is colored a different shade of gray. However, when a by-the-books police lieutenant (Tatsuo Umemiya) comes to town, Kuno’s fragile alliance begins to crumble. Greedy bosses and politicians seize the opportunity to wipe out their enemies, and Kuno faces the painful choice of pledging allegiance to his badge or keeping a promise to his brother. Like the great crime films of Sidney Lumet and Jean-Pierre Melville, there is no honor among thieves or lawmen alike in Kinji Fukasaku’s world. The only thing that matters is personal honor and duty between friends. This is a decidedly different take on the standard yakuza film and is essential viewing for anyone with a fondness for the genre.


The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. In this instance, it should be said that MacEwan’s new artwork is vastly superior to the alternative. There is also an attractive booklet that features a dedication to actor Hiroki Matsukata and a new essay entitled “True Crimes: Behind the Scenes of Cops vs Thugs by Patrick Macias. The booklet’s text is enhanced with a number of production stills and other artwork. The usual cast and crew credits and transfer information is also included.

 [Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.


Picture Quality: 

3 of 5 Stars

A pattern becomes evident when one compares Arrow Video’s many transfers of Japanese films. Their often specific and reasonably lengthy liner notes concerning their film transfers suddenly become short and generalized. For example, their informative paragraph about Wolf Guy’s transfer is only two sentences in length. Most of the important information can be found in the second sentence: “The film was re-mastered in high definition and supplied for this release by Toei Company, Ltd.

Like many of their other Japanese titles, Arrow is at the mercy of the studio that supplied them with the transfer. They certainly did the best that they could with it and have given it a technically robust bitrate but the results are merely adequate (especially when comparing this transfer to some of their better efforts). In any case, it is evident that the source elements provided by Toei weren’t what anyone might consider “top of the line” and they didn’t bother with a restoration. The print shows signs of fading (as do many of the Japanese releases by Arrow) and there is a heavy layer of grain which becomes a bit unwieldy during darker sequences in the film. One also wonders if there hasn’t been some slight image distortion here resulting in an aspect ratio that is slightly askew and visuals that aren’t quite representative. Those who abhor television sets that aren’t on their proper pixel settings will no doubt be slightly miffed about this as well. Colors are also rather problematic at times. The image is inherently soft. We are giving the transfer the benefit of the doubt and reasoning that this might be the result of the film’s original production, but it is difficult not to do this without any cynicism considering some of the other issues with this particular transfer. Artifacts are also very much on display throughout the length of the film. Even with these fundamental problems, Arrow’s disc is a significant improvement over the previous hove video releases (especially in regard to saturation and clarity).


Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The included mono mix of the film’s sound elements is a faithful representation of the film’s original audial presentation, and the Linear PCM transfer ensures that it is a lossless representation as well. It is difficult for my native English ears to adequately judge as to the clarity of the Japanese dialogue, but there doesn’t seem to be any issues along these lines. Some of the film’s louder moments can occasionally sound boxy, but this is a common issue with older foreign films, and one wouldn’t wish to imply that it is necessarily a result of the transfer when it might very well be the result of the original production methods. All film elements are still delivered with a reasonable amount of clarity. It is really a very solid audio transfer.


Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Beyond the Film: Cops vs. Thugs – (09:13)

Kinji Fukasaku’s biographer, Sadao Yamane, provides this video appreciation of the film that covers a variety of relevant topics: the project’s conception (it evolved from research that was accumulated from Battles without Honor and Humanity), Kazuo Kasahara’s script, Fukasaku’s filmmaking process, theoretical comments about some of the film’s important scenes, and even a few anecdotal revelations about the film’s production. It will fascinate fans of the film.

All Under the Gun (13:38)

Those who enjoy Yamane’s Beyond the Film will also enjoy this piece by Tom Mes. It is an insightful essay about the relationship between cops and criminals in Fukasaku’s work and examines the blurred lines between these two factions of society.

Archive ‘Behind the Scenes’ Footage – (04:59)

While much too brief, this wonderful glimpse behind the scenes of the film features Kinji Fukasaku discussing his use of violence. It was recorded on the set and also features some great rehearsal footage.

Theatrical Trailer – (03:16)

The theatrical trailer is not unlike those for similar films in the yakuza genre but it is nice to have it included here.


Final Words:

Kinji Fukasaku’s yakuza tale is certain to interest fans of the genre and Arrow’s Blu-ray is currently the best way to experience the film in one’s home environment.

Review by: Devon Powell


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