Kinji Fukasaku was originally slated to direct, but had to bow out when he discovered his lead actor could only be available for periods of ten days at a time due to television commitments. The lead actor Takeshi Kitano already cast as Azuma, offered the job after a joking reference to possibly doing it, took over the director's chair after heavily rewriting the script to remove all traces of comedy.
The original script was a comedy. Kitano was then very concerned about the audience recognizing his acting skills and he didn't feel that a comedy would allow him to act nor allow the audience to abstract from his comic TV personality. So he rewrote the script, removed all comedy and turned it into a drama.