Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Buronson, Koji Takada
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Janet Hatta, Eiko Matsuda, Masaru Shiga, Tatsuo Endo, Hideo Murota, Koichi Iwaki, Takuzo Kawatani, Hiroki Matsukata, Ryuji Katagiri
Running Time: 90 min.
By Kyle Warner
An Okinawa girl’s been murdered, the latest in what appears to be the work of a serial killer. She was strangled and then her apartment was set on fire, making any positive identification unlikely. The Tokyo cops are stumped, so they call in an Okinawa cop who knows something about the supposed victim. Yes, that’s right, this looks like a case for… Doberman Cop. Sonny Chiba enters frame to the tune of Japanese rock & roll. He’s dressed like a country farmer with a tattered old hat. He’s carrying an angry pig over his shoulder. He’s all wonder and uncertainty, a fish out of water in the big city. This is our hero, as you’ve rarely seen him before.
Chiba’s Detective Kano is a bit unorthodox, to say the least. When he arrives in Tokyo, he offers his pig to the Police Chief in thanks. The Chief doesn’t want it, but Kano insists. The pig meanwhile is screaming and kicking and biting as it attempts to get free of the men pushing it back and forth. Finally able to convince Kano that the pig is unwanted, the pig then becomes Kano’s pet for the rest of the picture.
Kano is there to help solve the murder of the Okinawa girl, who the people have identified as Yuna Tamashiro. Kano doesn’t believe it’s her; he knew Yuna very well, plus Yuna’s priestess mom says she feels that her daughter yet lives, and Kano throws down some seashells that he says prove she’s still alive. As a result, the Tokyo cops think he’s an idiot. But when he saves the singer Miki Haruno (Janet Hatta) from a knife-wielding maniac by rappelling down a 40 story building (with no net!), the cops reassess Kano. He’s not just an idiot, he’s a madman.
The rest of the film continues on this course: the cops search for the serial killer, Kano searches for Yuna who he believes to still be alive, and the singer Miki (with her ex-yakuza manger, Hiroki Matsukata) keep turning up in both storylines. It’s a mystery wrapped in an exploitation film fueled by action and gifted with a dark sense of humor. I could complain that some plots are resolved long before the others, but I’m not in the mood. I enjoyed the hell out of this film.
Chiba is great as Detective Kano. He’s called ‘Doberman Cop’ only once and ‘Tarzan Cop’ far more frequently, but perhaps that title wouldn’t sell the same (worth noting: the film is based on a popular manga series from the period). I enjoyed his more wide-eyed performance, as it made for a nice change from his usual hissing, karate kicking, steely-eyed badass. To be sure, Chiba still beats the living hell out of people (“my arms are like iron and my legs are even stronger!”), but there’s an added dose of comedy because everyone underestimates him all the time. Plus I liked seeing him carrying around a pig like it’s a puppy. It’s a good role and it’s a shame that the movie didn’t make more money at the time of its release to warrant seeing a sequel.
The rest of the cast is pretty solid. Hiroki Matsukata (13 Assassins) is great as the slimy ex-yakuza talent manager. Eiko Matsuda (In the Realm of the Senses) is a lot of fun as the stripper who falls in love with Kano and his pig. The stressed out strip club manager played Takuzo Kawatani (Empire of Passion) also makes for some nice bits of comedy. And Hotshot, a street bike gang member played by Koichi Iwaki (Silver Hawk), is a good unlikely ally for the out-of-town cop. The majority of the rest of the cast are Kinji Fukasaku and Toei regulars, all performing admirably in the chorus of chaos that the director frequently creates. The weak link is Janet Hatta (Proof of the Man), who doesn’t put much into her performance. Her character is supposed to be doped up in multiple scenes, so perhaps that explains her overly understated performance. But in a film full of high strung characters, Hatta’s Miki stands out in the wrong way.
Doberman Cop arrives on Blu-ray for the first time in the US from Arrow Video. The movie looks nice, sounds good, and comes with a little over 30 minutes of new special features. You get interviews with Japanese film expert Sadao Yamane, screenwriter and frequent Fukasaku collaborator Koji Takada, and another sit-down with Sonny Chiba as he talks about his career. Each interview subject is entertaining and informative. I only wish they were longer interviews.
After watching Wolf Guy earlier this year, I gave up trying to predict what to expect from the obscure entries of Sonny Chiba’s filmography. Goofier than most Kinji Fukasaku films but no less gritty, Doberman Cop is an odd little movie; a more thoughtful, character-driven, intricately plotted story than you’d ever expect it to be. It’s a culture clash action comedy with a pig and a dash of Dirty Harry. And I love that such a thing exists. Some won’t enjoy the competing tones, but if it gets its hooks into you just right, hold on because you’re in for a ride. Me, I had a blast.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10