On Aug. 12, 1989, "Beat" Takeshi Kitano's debut as a director, "Violent Cop," was released in Japan. Kitano was already famous here as a TV comic and emcee, and was known abroad for his role as a brutal POW camp guard in Nagisa Oshima's 1983 World War II drama "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence."

But when he took over as director of "Violent Cop" from veteran Kinji Fukasaku, who left the project due to a scheduling conflict, Kitano had had none of the usual education or training for the job.

Even so, the critics raved about "Violent Cop" and Kitano's fans made it a modest hit. The "Kinema Junpo" magazine annual critics' poll named it the eighth best Japanese film of the year and the Yokohama Film Festival gave Kitano its best director prize.