Good cop or bad cop? A maverick detective crosses the line in the name of justice in Toru Murakawa’s hardboiled thriller, Break Out (行き止まりの挽歌 ブレイクアウト, Ikidomari no Banka: Break Out). Like many of Murakawa’s films throughout the ‘80s, the main villain turns out to be political corruption along with a complicit police force which the hero must in a sense divorce realising that he can enforce the law only by breaking it but tragically failing to protect those most in need of his care.
Kaji (Tatsuya Fuji) is indeed the archetype of the lone wolf cop. Stumbling out of bed with an obvious hangover and fuzzy beard that stands in stark contrast to his clean-shaven colleagues, he immediately butts heads with follow officer Sakura (Renji Ishibashi) who is technically in charge of the latest homicide case which Kaji believes may be connected to the death of a young woman at a hotel that the force has so far proved reluctant to investigate. To him, it all seems to point to local gangster Nakai (Kiyoshi Nakajoe) with whom he seems to have an ongoing rivalry which might be why Nakai has implicated Kaji’s ex wife Saeko (Saiko Isshiki) in his drug smuggling operation.
Kaji quickly identifies the body as a bass player, Shimada, who just happens to have played at a club connected to Nakai, and soon realises that a young woman, Miki (Yoko Ishino), who belongs to a local biker gang, is most likely responsible for his death. But, somehow feeling sorry for her and suspecting she may have access to information that would help him take out Nakai for good, Kaji actively helps Miki evade the police by harbouring her in his own apartment while they are both stalked by a mysterious, Terminator-esque hitman who seems intent on recovering some kind of evidence obviously harmful to his client whoever that may be.
Murakawa’s greatest successes had occurred in the 1970s partnering with the great Yusaku Matsuda who had at this point moved away from genre films though he would later reunite with the director in his final screen appearance, a television movie in which he played an earnest policeman investigating a terrorist incident, before sadly passing away of bladder cancer at only 39. In any case the image of Matsuda hangs heavy over Murakawa’s subsequent films and it’s quite obvious that the menacing hitman has a distinctly Matsuda-esque silhouette, while Tatsuya Fuji plays a similar role to that he’d inhabited in Yoichi Sai’s Let Him Rest in Peace only this time as a world weary ‘80s cop who has his own particular code of righteousness he feels the world has failed.
His more cynical boss, played by Murakawa stalwart Mikio Narita, is quick to tell him that he should have resigned after a previous incident and that if he had done so his wife would not have left him, a sentiment which she later confirms which is in part surprising because the incident involved him fatally shooting her father. The implication is that Kaji is a true defender of justice who refused to surrender to institutional corruption even at great personal cost. Yet we do definitively see him cross the line, coldly executing a suspect who goads him by claiming he has already killed someone he cared about and thereafter little caring for conventional morality deciding to take the bad guys down with him no longer having anything left to lose except perhaps the girl, Miki, with whom he has developed a paternal bond.
Meanwhile his earnest partner, Nishimura (Hiroaki Murakami), who originally disapproved of Kaji’s old school, maverick policing has changed his tune now seeing the value in his belligerence not least when his own wife is taken hostage by Nakai leaving him equally powerless at police HQ. Kaji is constantly told to back off the hotel case because of pressure from above, eventually discovering a connection to a sleazy politician but knowing that he can’t touch him or Nakai while bizarrely ordered to continue investigating Shimada’s death despite the evidence that suggests they are quite clearly connected. Still as the rather more poetic Japanese title which means something more like “elegy for a dead end” implies, this world is already beyond redemption and the only recourse open to Kaji is to make a sacrifice of himself in the name of justice. A good bad cop, all he can do is pass on his outrage to those left behind. Shot with Murakawa’s trademark hardboiled mist, and a noirish sense of fatalism the film paints a bleak picture of infinite corruption in Bubble-era Japan in which the only hero on offer is a morally compromised cop prepared to die for an illusionary justice.