It's 1963 and the Kurashima City yakuza underworld has narrowed to two warring clans. The Kawade gang uses political influence to legitimatize their rackets, while the Ohara group shares an uneasy alliance with corrupt local cops. But when Boss Ohara initiates a bold waterfront land-grab, the precarious balance between gangsters, police, and politicians tips towards a bloodbath. "Drop dead, it'll clean the city," growls the Violence Squad's Detective Kuno to a group of Kawade assassins en route to a night club massacre. But Kuno's own hands are not spotless. Torn between his childhood connections with a yakuza kingpin, mounting pressure from reformer superiors, and the trigger happy gun-lust that led him to the police force in the first place, Kuno occupies the eye of Cops vs. Thugs' full-force hurricane of ferocious action. Coolly supplementing the body count on both sides, Kuno is a quick-triggered pilgrim in a world where, "gangsters and cops are the same. They both respect codes and laws."
Better known in America for his campy cult classics like Black Lizard, director Kinji Fukasaku made over sixty films spanning forty years, and until now only a handful have been available on DVD. Kino’s re-release of Fukasaku’s earlier yakuza films, such as Cops Vs. Thugs and Yakuza Graveyard, give viewers a chance to witness Japanese gangster violence in all of its seedy and futile glory. Kurashima City in Western Japan, 1963, has been overtaken by the mob. The Tomoyasu family is feuding with the Ohara/Kawades over a lucrative land deal, and the police force is satiated by yakuza bribes of sake and geishas. Even Detective Kuno (Bunta Sugawara), the police team’s most yakuza-savvy member, is loyal to Kenji Hirotani, slated to become boss of the Oharas. When severe violent upheaval, such as a gruesome beheading in the subway station, begins to affect the public sector, Lieutenant Shoichi Kaida (Seizo Fukumoto) is transferred in to take out the trash. He and Kuno butt heads over how to get the feuding under control, until utter tragedy befalls the gangsters as well as the law enforcement. Fukasaku maximizes fight scenes by using a handheld camera to get close-ups of the action. Bodies fly in front of the camera, and blood pools on the floors where the men slaughter each other. Cops Vs. Thugs lurks in the shadows of the great samurai films (in fact it was released by samurai-movie makers TOEI Productions) but the yakuza code is less chivalrous than that of samurais. Moreover, cops and yakuza are equally weak, proving post-WWII Japan to be a place void of honor. Also in the tradition of Tokyo Drifter, Cops Vs. Thugs is a noir classic filmed in color, ripe with great battle scenes and vibrant characters. --Trinie Dalton