A tough-as-nails cop from Okinawa investigates a savage murder in Tokyo's nightlife district. Originally dismissed as a bumpkin, he soon proves more savvy than the local police.
As with many Japanese films, this one began its life as a manga series. By 1977, the mass-production of original movies slowed down in Japan, and the trend switched to converting manga to film. Because film audiences were decreasing, the industry thought it could boost attendance by converting already popular properties. This had proved popular with both "Lady Snowblood" (1973) and "Karate Bear Fighter" (1977) among others.
Some will argue that "manga" is not strictly accurate and the original source was "gekiga", a more serious, dramatic form of manga. For western audiences not well-versed in Japanese comic art, the difference is somewhat analogous to the American distinction between "comic books" and "graphic novels". While the latter are still comics, they tend to be aimed at more mature audiences and have more serious, literary themes. Yoshiyuki Okamura, the writer of the "Doberman Cop" books, is probably best known today for the series "Fist of the North Star" (1983-1988).
Kōji Takada ("The Street Fighter") then wrote a script, and the wildly popular director Kinji Fukasaku ("Battle Royale") took it from there. Fukasaku took the source material and adapted it "broadly". According to Takada, in those days writers were happy to be adapted because it would cause book sales to soar. Today such loose interpretations are harder to do because the writers want more control of their material. Takada does concede that beyond the title, the film kept very little from the comic. (Examples of changes: Fukasaku moved the character's origin to Okinawa and changed the officer's dog into a pig because it was funnier to him, even though that sort of defeats the purpose of the title.)
Cast in the title role was none other than international star Sonny Chiba. While the 1970s may have been Chiba's decade, it is interesting to note his long history with the director -- both Chiba and Fukasaku had taken part in each other's first four films, including the little-seen "Man with the Funky Hat" (1961). According to Chiba, the two interacted more as friends than as a director and actor. And when Chiba made his directorial debut with "Yellow Fangs" (1990), he essentially borrowed the rhythm of his mentor. (Chiba also believes Quentin Tarantino borrowed Fukasaku's rhythm, which is probably correct.)
Again, Chiba was at his peak in the 1970s, and this is no exception. While he has been referred to as a martial artist, that may be a stretch. He is not graceful like Bruce Lee or other martial artists. He really acts more like a bar brawler, which makes perfect sense for a cop in the big city. Maybe Japan is different than the United States, but one doubts that most police there are black belts in anything.
Despite being based on a popular story and starring a popular actor, the box office performance was underwhelming and what should have been a series of films never happened. Years later, following this film were both a second film and a short-lived television series, though neither had Chiba and from what can be determined, had relatively little to do with the manga, or the earlier film either. Japanese media... such a strange thing.
Never before released on video outside of Japan, Arrow Video brings us the Blu-ray we never knew we wanted (but we do). And while not as packed full as some releases, it still has some great extras. There is a new video appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane. A new video interview with actor Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba (the second in an ongoing series from Arrow). And a new video interview with screenwriter Koji Takada. It is beyond time that these films and their creators are getting their due in the west.