Released in 1977, Doberman Cop was made as the popularity of homegrown crime movies diminished in Japan. It’s based on a hardboiled police manga that followed the exploits of Detective Kano, a Tokyo policeman who had little patience for criminals and a reputation as a tough guy. In the film, Kano is played by Shin’ichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba and the story takes a few elements of the manga and twists them into a murder-mystery action film with elements of comedy. In this version Kano is a detective but this time from Okinawa.
It starts with the discovery of a murdered prostitute who has been strangled and then burned. Kano arrives in Tokyo to discover what happened to her, because the likely victim was a neighbour growing up and someone he had been told he would one day marry. The Tokyo cops think she was killed by a serial killer who is murdering prostitutes but Kano is quickly convinced she isn’t the girl from his island but someone else altogether.
Kano’s outsider ways make him stand out in the big city, bringing him in for some mocking from the detectives working the case. Indeed, he arrives from the country wearing a straw hat and carrying a pig with him. Hotshot, the leader of a motorcycle gang and the lover of the murdered girl, is brought in for questioning but soon released. He will team up with Kano to try and get to the truth behind the murder. Add in to all this a retired Yakuza trying to break his nightclub singer girlfriend into the big time and the plot starts to get a little cluttered.
That doesn’t matter as director Kinji Fukasaku is more than capable of knitting together a tonally busy film that flips nimbly between comedy and tragedy. He’s ably assisted in making Doberman Cop into something different by Chiba. His Kano has to be almost simultaneously naive, world-weary, angry and kick ass when the need arises. Arrow’s other recent Chiba release Wolf Guy was seriously odd but this comes a close second, an ostensibly straightforward cop thriller mixed in with one bizarre scene after another.
It makes for an entertaining mix of ‘70s-style American thriller, a smattering of the Yakuza themes Fukasaku had previously employed, some humour and that special Japanese-brand strangeness all centred on Chiba’s genuinely affecting performance as he clings to the belief he will somehow find his intended bride in all this mess. This release finds the film in great shape and supported by a couple of interesting interviews and an appreciation of Fukasaku by his biographer Sadao Yamane.
A true oddity showcasing Chiba’s versatility, Japanese cinema fans should pick it up.
DOBERMAN COP (1977) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: KINJI FUKASAKU / SCREENPLAY: KŌJI TAKADA / STARRING: SHIN’ICHI ‘SONNY’ CHIBA, JANET HATTA, EIKO MATSUDA / RELEASE DATE: 26TH JUNE