Offbeat Cops is an original story written and directed by Eiji Uchida for his fourteenth film to date. It stars Hiroshi Abe as Tsukasa Naruse, a divorcee and hard-boiled detective on the verge of catching the elusive leader of a phishing ring that targets elderly people, violently invades them at home and robs them of any money or personal belongings before leaving their victims for dead. When the film starts, he’s so close to getting his man that he can taste it, and will go to just about any lengths necessary to catch the culprit, even if it means abusing his authority with suspects.
His maverick style of investigation, however, has also cost him his image as the three decades he’s spent being a detective has transformed him into an incorrigible colleague at the station, shoving his weight around and being insubordinate his seniors, intolerant of meetings and by-the-book procedures as opposed what he calls “doing the actual legwork” to get the job done. Additionally, his job has gravely affected his relationship with his daughter, Noriko (Ai Mikami), reaching an inflection point that puts him under even more stress whilst taking care of his mother, Sachiko (Mitsuko Baisho) who still suffers from dementia.
To make matters worse, little does Tsukasa know that someone’s filed a complaint against him, and as such, his superiors have transferred him to the last place he’d want to be: The rehearsal facility he has to go to by bus to take his position with an underdog Police Band whose music and performance caliber are a bit worse for wear, to say the least. As he struggles between his natural urges to be a street-beating, hand-wringing, tough-as-nails detective and grappling with his newly appointed position, naturally it takes a while for him to acclimate. With time and effort, and a lot of introspection, Tsukasa eventually manages to get in-roads with the band, making friends with a single mother, Haruko, who when not serving as a traffic cop is playing Trumpet for the band.
Their friendship is certainly a starting point to take note of while Tsukasa continues onward with a journey that will ultimately reconnect him with the childhood joy he long forgot since growing up and being hardened by life and his subsequent occupation. In the meantime, Offbeat Cops teeters back and forth from time to time with its initial setup as the aforementioned phishing gang is still on the lose. Tragedies arise as a result, a factor that even begins to affect the band with the commissioner beginning to question if whether or not its department is wasting its valuable resources on a band whose prospects have been dimming by the day.
Featuring music by composer and arranger Yohei Kobayashi, Offbeat Cops, tells a story that keenly finds its footing between crime tale and poignant inspiration drama with Abe striking some major chords with his lead performance, in addition to Nana Seino who is by far one of the most versatile actresses working today. The film also stars Hayato Isomura who plays Tsukasa’s partner and mentee, Shota, who plays a pivotal and compelling role in the way events play out within the second half, with the final act culminating the film’s only real action sequences involving another major character who’s got some surprises of his own.
The same can certainly be said of Tsukasa, while watching him reinvest himself in the drums he used to play as a kid and, albeit reluctantly at first, putting the work in, and making the effort to improve his skillset for the sake of the band, and then some; This comes as a result of Abe’s own diligence, choosing to learn how to play drums from scratch and practicing rudiments on a drum pad three hours a day before moving on to learning how to play on an actual drumset, whilst taking inspiration from 60s drum legend Buddy Rich and watching Damien Chazelle’s 2014 drama, Whiplash.
In conjunction, we get to see how transformative Tsukasa’s journey is, watching as he learns to abandon his own ego just a little more when people hold him accountable for something he says or does. These are true and genuine character moments to absorb right down to the film’s final key acts where Tsukasa gets to redeem himself, and it’s certainly a stark reflection on Uchida’s vision and own life story, particularly since music played an important role in his life. That the film’s motivation also comes from Uchida spotting a viral video and deciding to make a thing of it is also delightfully telling, making Offbeat Cops a true slice-of-life piece of cinema to enjoy.
Offbeat Cops is screening this month for the New York Asian Film Festival.
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Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.