It’s slick, it’s chaotic, it’s entertaining, and it’s dark, which is why the new Japanese crime thriller Hard Days by Michihito Fujii intrigues from the very first frame. One gets a sense from the get-go that we have entered into a world that is full of sinister plots. There is something about those movies that start with a car being driven at night that somehow sets my mind racing with all these adjectives. Goodfellas comes to mind with that sort of dynamic opening, and well, Hard Days is not as good as the Scorsese film; but it has a language of its own. But the first frame itself promises what kind of movie it’s going to be. If there were doubts, then the movie quells all of them in the next five minutes when drunk Detective Yuji Kudo runs somebody over and tries to cover up the crime. It could have been a great drama to follow this man and explore the various ways he would disintegrate after such a crime, but the film takes a different route. It’s a route movies have gone down before, but Hard Days is relentlessly better than all those movies.
Cop films have a great place in cinema. The exploration of crime and depicting the psychology of criminals is one thing that writers have done exceptionally well in the past. They have pitted two people, one cop and one criminal, against each other and both have shades of the other present in them. There is the brilliant film “Heat” among many others, but Hard Days pits two cops against each other, both bursting at the seams with criminal intent. Det. Yuji Kudo, the questionable protagonist of the film, is written in such a way that he has all the characteristics of a villain. He looks like a good person only when you start to compare him to all the other cops around him. His whole department seems to be corrupt, and when Yazaki from Internal Affairs shows up, they all depend on Kudo to not blurt out anything that would make him realize that the department had taken bribes from Semba, a feared Yakuza member. With all that going on, Kudo is given a sympathetic quality as his mother dies, and he gets embroiled in the hit-and-run cover-up. But how he deals with his mother’s funeral only goes to show what degradation has taken place in his character—that even the dead were not spared. Later, when Yazaki comes face-to-face with Kudo, it becomes apparent that Kudo was just a cockroach among wolves.
There is a jumpy and frenetic quality about this film, which matches the characters’ states of mind so perfectly that it’s something to savor. Gradually, our taste buds are tested as to how much we can bear. The most interesting part of the movie is its inclination toward the tone of a black comedy. The characters seem like real people who have gotten themselves into a terrible situation that they cannot get out of. But as the movie progresses, they start to behave like deranged ‘movie characters,’ not at all resembling ‘real’ people at some moments. There is definitely a sense of humor that this film possesses that is hard to pinpoint. It lies in the characters’ reactions to things, especially Kudo, who tries hard to hide the fact that there is a dead man resting in his car’s trunk.
There is a feeling that the film takes a perverse kind of pleasure in killing off its characters, which is also one of the features of a black comedy. The way some of the deaths occur and how the bodies are then handled is so cruel, it’s funny. The blending of crime dramas and black comedy didn’t exactly seem like the film’s motive, but the drive to make the film as engaging as it could be somehow got those elements organically into the narrative. The different resting places of a corpse before it got its final farewell and went out literally with a ‘bang’ is an example of some pretty good writing. The police department is shown to be a dangerous place, where nobody was safe and some groups could backstab you the first chance they get. The editing of the film, at times, got a little too confusing. There is a moment around the halfway mark when the point of view of the story shifts and is told through Yazaki’s eyes. There is the Yakuza perspective as well, but that’s just the foil to showcase that days are hard only for the cops.
Hard Days is a low-stakes study of masculinity in a sense. There is a notion in the film that most men are stuck in a ‘desert,’ and the sun’s scorching rays are killing them. Such men are trying to survive by hopping from one leg to the other in order to tolerate the heat. Kudo is a man who has exchanged his soul for survival, and Yazaki seems to be one who made a deal with the devil to reach new heights in his career. I won’t mention how, as it would spoil the film for the reader, but within the context of a crime thriller, it was great to see that there could be that element as well. Almost like a ‘you complete me’ scenario, Kudo and Yazaki are more fulfilled by their connected struggle to get out of the ‘desert’ the film talks about. Kudo is a horrible family man, and Yazaki has married his boss’ daughter solely for his promotion. The days are hard for them, as they have lost the opportunity to be honest with themselves and the capacity to love. So when Yazaki and Kudo confront each other, they have this common ground that they so intimately understand. Days will continue to remain hard for them, as they cannot go back to mundane life now. High-stakes chases and shootouts are their life now, and they will thwart each other’s attempts to even try to go back.