Let me be perfectly upfront, I wouldn’t usually watch Doberman Cop, but Arrow Video shot it over my way for review, so alas here I am with this feeble excuse for a review. The reason I wouldn’t watch it has nothing to do with it being a bad or good film, but only because it isn’t something that jumps out at me as a must watch. I still feel the same way even after watching the film. Of course, I know my opinion doesn’t mean squat, as others have expressed liking the movie (check out The Moon is a Dead World’s review). As for me, I felt the film was a bit muddled when it comes to the story, resulting in wacky, confusing story and an ending that falls flat.
Released just as the popularity of yakuza movies was waning in Japan, and as the country’s film industry was undergoing some fundamental shifts, Doberman Cop is a unique entry in the career of director Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Cops vs Thugs), and reunited him with star Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba (The Street Fighter, Wolf Guy) in an American-style crime movie that mixes gunplay and pulp fiction with martial arts and lowbrow comedy to create one of their most entertaining films.
Based on a popular manga by “Buronson” (creator of Fist of the North Star), Doberman Cop follows the fish-out-of-water adventures of Joji Kano (Chiba), a tough-as-nails police officer from Okinawa who arrives in Tokyo’s Kabuki-cho nightlife district to investigate the savage murder and mutilation of an island girl who had been working as a prostitute. Initially dismissed as a country bumpkin (complete with straw hat and live pig in tow!), Kano soon proves himself a more savvy detective than the local cops, and a tougher customer than anyone expected. As he probes deeper into the sleazy world of flesh-peddling, talent agency corruption and mob influence, Kano uncovers the shocking truth about the girl, her connection to a yakuza-turned-music manager (Hiroki Matsukata), and a savage serial killer who is burning women alive.
Made to appeal both to the youth market with its biker gangs and popular music, as well as to old-time yakuza movie fans, Doberman Cop is an surprising oddity in Fukasaku’s career, his sole film adapted directly from a manga and never before released on video outside of Japan. Featuring Chiba at his charismatic best — channeling a Japanese Dirty Harry while doing all his own stunts — and Fukasaku at his most fun, deftly showcasing the combined talents of his “Piranha Army” stock company of actors and other regular players — Doberman Cop is a classic action comedy and a missing link in 1970’s Japanese cinema deserving of rediscovery.
Doberman Cop is about a country bumpkin detective (Chiba), who has a pig for a friend and is amazing at his job, even though he looks homeless. He comes to Tokyo when the body of a missing friend/lover/wife(?) has turned up. He gets wrapped up in a potential serial killer case, strippers and lounge singers.
Doberman Cop is all over the place and has a hard time keeping its story straight. First, it’s murder with no connections, then it has connections to a serial killer, and then a biker gang shows up. Next, we have strippers and lounge singers working with an ex Yakuza. The flick tries very hard to tie all of this together, which does generate a few surprises, but I still ended up with a feeling of mehness (it’s a real word). It’s sad that the Japanese film industry was starting to wane, but it’s clear Doberman Cop was not going to save it.
Arrow Video doesn’t care whether I like the movie or not and provides a package for everyone else that loves it. The Blu-ray is a bit on the light side when it comes to special features, but does provide an interesting 8-minute interview with Sadao Yamane, who discusses the decline of Japanese cinema. We also have the continuing interview with Sonny Chiba (part one was featured on Wolf Guy). There are no commentaries, which is surprising, but at least the solid video and audio make up for the shortage of features.
Maybe I was in a bad mood when I watched Doberman Cop, and if I was to gave it another chance, heck, I may end up liking it better. As the saying goes, opinions are like appendixes. We all have them until they explode and kill you.