Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kôji Takada
Based on a Gekiga by: Buronson
Starring: Shin’ichi Chiba, Janet Hatta, Eiko Matsuda, Hideo Murota, Hiroki Matsukata, Ryûji Katagiri
Running Time: 90 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Arrow Video continue to delve into the Japanese genre movie vaults with Doberman Cop, a film that brings together two stalwarts they’ve previously featured, director Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honour and Humanity, Battle Royale and Cops Vs Thugs, which I reviewed recently) and actor Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba (The Street Fighter, Kill Bill and Wolf Guy, which I reviewed recently). It’s not a film that saw much success when it came out and as such it’s never been released on video outside of Japan, so it’s great to see Arrow taking the effort to bring such an obscure, but nevertheless interesting title out over here. The two names I mentioned being behind the film were enough to get me interested, so I was keen to see if it was any good.
Doberman Cop is an action thriller based on a gekiga (a more story driven and adult form of manga) written by Buronson (better known for creating Fist of the North Star). Chiba plays Joji Kano, a cop who has recently moved from an Okinawan village in the country to the bright lights of Tokyo. A true country bumpkin, arriving with pet pig in tow, Kano is a fish out of water but tough enough to handle the mean streets of Tokyo. He falls quickly into trouble as he investigates the murder of a young woman in the nightlife district. Her body has been badly burnt, but the victim appears to be from Kano’s home town, which gives him added impetus to solve the crime. The plot further thickens as Kano believes the body was only made out to look like that of his neighbour and that the gangster Hidenori (Hiroki Matsukata) has something to do with it, along with Miki (Janet Hatta), a singer the gangster is grooming for success.
The fish out of water aspect makes way for a little more goofy comedy than I expected from a Fukasaku film, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a full on action comedy. It’s still a cop thriller at heart and there are more than a few nods to Dirty Harry, in particular the .44 Magnum wielded by Chiba. It’s not a particularly original or remarkable action thriller though unfortunately. It’s trashier than most of the Fukasaku films I’ve seen before too – more ridiculous and sleazy and less grounded in reality. The mistaken/hidden identity angle with the Miki character adds a slight spin to the usual gangster versus cop formula, but it’s business as usual for the most part.
However, Chiba and Fukasaku each help make this a solid and enjoyable entry to the genre. Chiba helps deliver the action goods for one. It’s not graceful, but the choreography is fast paced and Chiba helps sell each blow in his inimitable style. There’s a bit of gore added to the fights too, with the aforementioned Magnum causing one bad guy’s head to explode, bringing Dirty Harry’s infamous monologue to vidid life. Fukasaku brings further energy to the film through his kinetic directing style. His handheld camerawork and gritty look is still in play, giving the occasionally silly film a tougher edge than it might otherwise have had.
There’s not a lot more to be said about the film to be honest. I don’t want to sound too down on it, as I enjoyed it quite a lot, but it’s fairly generic and unremarkable when compared to the director’s other work. His style helps move it along though and it’s always enjoyable to see Chiba kicking seven shades of sh*t out of a load of bad guys. So, I’d still recommend it to those with a taste for Japanese genre movies and Chiba fans will certainly get a kick out of it, even if Fukasaku fans might feel a little let down.
Doberman Cop is out on 26th June on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, released by Arrow Video. I saw the DVD version and the picture and sound quality was decent.
There are a handful of special features too:
– Beyond the Film: Doberman Cop, a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane
– New video interview with actor Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba
– New video interview with screenwriter Koji Takada
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
– First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing on the films by Patrick Macias
As with Wolf Guy, although there aren’t a huge amount of extra features, what’s here is excellent. The Yamane piece is particularly strong, putting the film in context, providing a lot of interesting facts about the production and what was going on in the Japanese film industry at the time. The Takada interview is decent too, providing his thoughts about adapting other people’s work as well as stories about the production process of the film. The Chiba interview is a continuation of that on the Wolf Guy disc, so it was great to hear what else the legendary actor had to say about his career.