Offbeat Cops (2022) review

Introduction

Many fans of Japanese cinema love the films the country makes within the music genre. They would recommend any one searching for some heart-warming light-heartedness the stories of Swing Girls (2004), Linda, Linda, Linda (2004), and Maestro! (2015) or even persuade him to be adventurous and try out more experimental movies like Love and Peace (2015) and On-Gaku: Our Sound (2020).

With Offbeat Cops, Eiji Uchida (Greatful Dead (2013), Love And Other Cults (2017)) presents his addition to the genre. Can he deliver an experience that will be recommended to others for years to come or does it fail to warm the hearts of the spectators? Let’s find it out in our review.

Review

Detective Tsukasa Naruse (Hiroshi Abe) is currently investigating a string of pre-call burglaries. In these kinds of burglaries, the criminals call their elderly targets and, by impersonating cops, trick them into revealing where their secret stash of money is hidden. A few moments later, a delivery man rings the door. Yet, instead of receiving a delivery, their head meets a dull object, knocking them out so that their stash, with a minimum of fuss, can be emptied.

One day, Naruse makes the mistake to violently interrogate a possible lead in his house without a search warrant. HQ swiftly takes disciplinary action and transfers him to the prefectural police band. There, the band’s conductor Sawada (Yoshi Sakou) assigns him to percussion by and ask Tatsuya Hiroka (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) to tutor him.

Offbeat Cops (2022) by Eiji Uchida

Offbeat Cops tells the transformative tale of Tsukasa Naruse, a detective who clothes himself with the image of a hard-boiled detective, a lone-wolf stuck in the past with almost no respect for the contemporary hierarchical structure and the team-aspect that defines police-work. He does not only hate meetings, considering them time-wasters that offer little to no useful information, but also dislikes the police bigwigs, who from their airconditioned rooms in headquarters, dictate the flow of the investigation.

The opening of Offbeat Cops forces the spectator to question what function a meeting has. Of course, every meeting is marked by a minimal coordinating element – i.e. to inform everyone of the current state of affairs and to decide, in some cases, the subsequent course of action – but it also plays an important role in fuelling the fiction of a harmonious team. In this sense, by conspicuously reading his newspaper during the meeting, Naruse does not merely show his disdain for meetings and his superiors but he also underlines that he refuses to inscribe himself within the fiction of a team and collaborate with the others of his unit.

Offbeat Cops (2022) by Eiji Uchida

Naruse’s main complaint is not really incorrect. Real detective work does not happen in meetings but in the field – the key to solve a crime lies on the same streets where the crime was committed. Yet, his phantasmatic clinging to the past does not merely impels him to complain about the way the police currently functions, but also leads him to bend the rules to further his own investigations and to use violence to try and force a breakthrough. The aim of Naruse’s violence is, in our view, to confront the other with the weight of the law and utilize such confrontation to pressure him into confessing what he knows. Yet, as Offbeat Cops shows, such violence only works when the other has no inkling of the rules police inspectors have to abide by when conducting their investigations.  

Naruse’s acts and signifiers are – and this should be evident – determined by his embodiment of the fantasy of being a hard-boiled detective. It is this fantasy, a remnant of his past, that fuels his desire to catch criminals by any means necessary and underpins his disdain for the conformist suits that surround him (Narra-note 1). This disdain causes Naruse to verbally attack his colleagues and condemning them for solely working for their monthly salary and their problematic indulgence in writing elegant reports rather than getting their hands dirty to apprehend criminals.

Offbeat Cops (2022) by Eiji Uchida

The transfer to the musical corps is for Naruse nothing other than an imaginary injury, an act that, by taking away his symbolic title of detective, cracks his hard-boiled fantasy and damages his ego, his identification with such fantasy. Yet, his transfer also offers a chance. Naruse, who has hitherto refused to inscribe himself into the fiction of a team, is suddenly forced to follow the beats and rhythms of the music. He needs to prove that he, with his rhythmical hits, can cooperate with the others to create a harmonious piece of music.

This demand to cooperate with others coupled with the different fabric of interactions he encounters might show him that the joy of being a member of the police is to be found in positively working together, in inscribing himself into the necessary fiction of relational harmony. Moreover, this experience might even persuade him to revise the hard-boiled fantasy that dictates his acts and signifiers, so that the other in his/her difference can be met and he can present the other who he truly is, offer him signifier that invites connection, and perform an act that welcomes.

Naruse’s sudden wish to play the drums seriously might even help him mending the conflictual relation with his daughter Noriko (Ai Mikami). Before his transfer, his singular focus on his catching criminals by any means necessary caused him to fail as a father. His intimate identification with the image of the hard-boiled detective meant that he had no time to dress himself with the fatherly coat. Any kind of wish to act as father was always an attempt to undo an act of a signifier that heralded his very failure.  

Offbeat Cops (2022) 4

Uchida delivers a composition that is rich in subtle peaceful dynamism. Yet,the visual pleasure of Offbeat Cops is not simply function of Uchida’s fluid dynamism but is also due to his effectiveuse of depth-of-field and the natural but slightly darkish colour- and lightning-design. Yet, the colour-schemes do not merely give the atmosphere of Uchida’s narrative a subtle dramatic flavour, but also allows the hard-boiled fantasy that marks Naruse’s presence to be visually felt.

Yet, the colour-schemes only succeed in evoking Naruse’s ego because of Hiroshi Abe’s splendid performance. His performance does not merely allow the spectator to feel the importance of the hard-boiled fantasy for him, but also that this fantasy is merely an imaginary facade, a defensive clinging to the past to keep the others around him at a distance. Moreover, the facial expressions of Abe, which serve to underline the seriousness by which he embodies his hard-boiled fantasy, are important in creating the contrast necessary to make the comical dimension function within Offbeat Cops. It is, in other words, by contrasting his hard-boiled fantasy – a fantasy introduced by Naruse’s acts and signifiers and reverberated within the visuals, with his current situation as band-member that the sudden flashes of light-heartedness attain the power to put a smile on the spectator’s face and the subtle comical dimension that marks Naruse’s more hard-boiled interactions is highlighted.

Offbeat Cops does not offer anything new to the genre of the music film, but that does not stop Uchida from delivering what very well might be the feel-good movie of the year (Structure-note 1). What ensures the enjoyment of the spectator is not simply Uchida’s narrative mix of drama and comedy but Hiroshi Abe’s pitch-perfect performance as Tsukasa Naruse, which gives the more emotional moments their pleasing genuineness and the many instances of light-heartedness the ability to brighten the spectator’s day.

Notes

Narra-note 1: A visual sign that reveals that Naruse holds on to the past to structure his ego are his square eighties aviator glasses. As the narrative unfolds, Naruse suddenly stops wearing his glasses, underlining that he has changed and the need to defend himself from the other with his hard-boiled image has become obsolete.

Structure-note 1: While the finale of Offbeat Cops is pleasant, Uchida plays it a bit too safe. In our view, a finale exploring the role the musical band can play in solving criminal cases more deeply could have provide a mix of emotionality and light-heartedness that sends off the spectator with a truly warm feeling within his heart.  

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