Sonny Chiba is a martial arts icon. He’s also a brilliant actor, an accomplished director, and even has a large following as a singer. Basically, he should be a lot more well known to American audiences than he is. I got the distinct pleasure of seeing Chiba and one of his lesser shown films Doberman Cop at this year’s Beyond Fest, and it was another example of the breadth of skill, virtuosity, and excitement that Chiba brings to any role. It also happens to be a singularly entertaining and humorous example of ’70s Japanese noir.Directed by regular Chiba collaborator and Japanese cinema legend Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honor and Humanity), Doberman Cop tells the story of Okinawan detective Joji Kano who’s sent to Tokyo to investigate the murder of a young girl from his small village. At first Kano is underestimated and mocked for his apparently “outdated” or “country bumpkin” style and techniques, but he quickly proves himself to be far more resilient, brave, and talented than any of the jaded city cops who took so much joy in mocking his traditions and quirks.
Adapted (loosley) from the popular Shonen Jump manga Doberman Deka, Fukasaku manages to create an authentic, violent, and vibrant world that seems to have jumped straight out of the pages of the renowned manga magazine whilst still feeling like a down and dirty noir. The neon-lit, rain-filled streets of Doberman Cop are often reminiscent of classic noir and blaxploitation films, but it manages to never feels derivative. Chiba crafts Kano into a sweet, kind, and caring man who just happens to be able to scale 40 floor buildings and kill multiple yakuza in hand-to-hand combat.Though Doberman Cop does fall into the dangerous trope of a serial killer who targets–among others–sex workers, the film goes to great lengths to humanize the many women it introduces. Kano’s only true allies are the sex workers at a local strip club, who get to be whole, funny, have crushes and friendships, and even fall in love without their stories being reduced to tragedy, trauma, or mockery.Then there’s the pig. One of Fukasaku’s biggest interventions into the original source material is the addition of a small, very badly behaved pig. Brought to Shinjuku by Kano as a gift for the local police to eat, they quickly reject his offer with the pig becoming a sort of pet/help/hindrance to Kano and his newfound friends in the prefecture’s red light district. Kano’s pig is just one of the singularly strange parts of what make Doberman Cop so special, but it’s once we get into the wider plot that things become uniquely weird and wonderful.Though the serial killer is a part of Kano’s story in Shinjuku, he quickly realizes that the girl who died is not the girl he’s looking for, and gets wrapped up in a yakuza plot to create a pop idol named Miki Haruno. Miki is in fact Yuna–brought to life by an ethereal Janet Hatta–the young girl who was once Kano’s neighbor, and he begins to doggedly try and help her return home. Add in some biker gangs, that nefarious serial killer, and some very corrupt and apathetic cops, and you’ve just about got a handle on the gritty, strange magic of Doberman Cop. Entertaining, violent, original and with incredibly interesting direction–especially when shooting fights–from Fukasaku, this one is a must watch for cult film fans.Have you seen this Sonny Chiba classic? Got another fave from Beyond Fest?? Let us know below!
Four out of Five