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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.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
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That being said there is DOBERMAN COP, a starring vehicle for Japanese actor Sonny Chiba whose claim to fame in the states comes from his starring roles in the Streetfighter movies. Based on the Manga of the same name he stars as a fish out of water, a police detective from the “backwoods” city of Okinawa. Backwoods at least to those who live in Tokyo where he is now, searching for a missing girl who was supposed to have traveled here. He has a personal motivation to find her as a psychic back home told him the two of them were to be married.
Of course the local police laugh him off and suggest he return home to let the “real” police solve this missing persons case. Instead he remains in town, makes friends with a few shady characters and searches for the girl on his own. It takes little time to realize that the girl has been taken under the wing of a local yakuza boss who has plans for her to be a new pop singing sensation that he will control and manage. Kept in line with a steady flow of drugs, she is a total addict and has no plans on leaving.
Chiba eventually finds her and tries to rescue her but is stopped by the boss and his gang. Deals and double crosses, never knowing who to trust, it seems that every side has someone working both sides of the street. Whether or not he succeeds in his task is eventually solved by the end of the film.
While watching this I couldn’t help but think back to the movie COOGAN’S BLUFF starring Clint Eastwood in a similar vein as an AZ sheriff sent to New York to extradite a captured criminal and the TV series MCCLOUD which starred Dennis Weaver in a role based on that film. The fish out of water backwater lawman who teaches the city cops a thing or two ran through both of those items just as it does here. What makes it interesting to watch is Chiba in the role. For the most part his films had him as more urban and violent than this one where he has a somewhat country bumpkin persona he uses to help people underestimate his abilities.
The movie isn’t quite Hollywood clean but the print is very good considering the source. Japan in the seventies in on display here and reminds one more of Times Square at the time than the serene images most garner from Tokyo. It’s almost a modern day Tombstone with criminals having no problems carrying and using guns while the police seem unable to corral anyone that should be, focusing instead on suspects that are far easier to catch and deal with.
As with all releases from Arrow Video the contents make this one for movie lovers to enjoy and fans of Chiba to love. Included in the extras are “Beyond the Film: Doberman Cop” a new appreciation by director Kinji Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane, a new interview with Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba, a new interview with screenwriter Koji Takada, a reversible sleeve with newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon and with the first pressing only an illustrated collector’s book. All of this comes together to prove why Arrow Video is a name to be reckoned with when it comes to quality product.
While his Battles Without Honor and Humanity series was a huge hit, director Kinji Fukasaku was sweating out the demise of the yakuza genre along with several other studios whose endless series of sequels seemed to have finally played out. Doberman Cop is an obvious franchise attempt - based on a popular manga - that never got off the ground. But even as a one-off, Fukasaku takes a unique hard-boiled approach, mixed with some fish-out-of-water comedy, that makes it unusually appealing.
Opening with the gruesome discovery of a prostitute's burned body, Kano arrives on the scene traveling with a pet pig which he offers to the police captain in tribute. It's a hokey gimmick that seems at odds with the plot that develops around Miki (Janet Hatta), an ex-junkie turned singer whose career is micromanaged by an ambitious yakuza. But bouncing between comedy and pulp fiction cliches keeps the film oddly interesting. After a neon soaked, bluesy beginning, Doberman Cop splits its time between on-the-money faux film noir plot twists and Dirty Harry style stunts and violence courtesy of a signature .44 magnum.
Sonny Chiba seems more engaged here than in some of his other '70s cop thrillers, including Arrow Video's recent Wolf Guy. And his comfort level with the character of Kano rubs off, even when a street-tough sidekick is added to give the movie some more youth appeal. The stunts themselves, including a dizzying sequence repelling down a highrise building, are only slightly above average. But Fukasaku seems more patient here, letting the story play out to a satisfyingly nihilistic conclusion that could have been lifted right out of a post-WW2 detective story...and probably was.
Arrow Video does a great job bringing Doberman Cop onto hi-def, with a Blu-ray transfer that on par with any of their previous releases...and maybe a hair better. Extras include a "video appreciation" by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane (who does a great job setting up the state of Japanese cinema at the time), new interviews with Sonny Chiba and screenwriter Koji Takada along with newly commissioned artwork and a standard-DVD copy.