Release Date(s)1977 (July 4, 2017)
Studio(s)Toei Company (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
Based upon the hardboiled manga series “Doberman Deka” by Buronson and Shinji Hiramatsu, Doberman Cop (AKA Detective Doberman) was released by the Toei Company in 1977. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, known mostly for the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, it follows the adventures of Kano (Sonny Chiba), a wise and ostensibly cool-headed detective who was previously known for his violent and reckless side. Visiting Tokyo with a pet pig by his side, he is brought into the investigation of a murdered young woman. Although initially written off by the other police officers as nothing more than a rube, he is soon on the trail of the killer, who may or may not be secretly hiding out in Tokyo’s criminal underworld.
Doberman Cop is one of those films that you might not fully comprehend on your first time through, which is completely forgivable. The film throws so much at you plot and character-wise that just getting the gist of things is an accomplishment unto itself. The plot also sort of dwindles in the third act and things seem to come together with seemingly no real connectivity, but the action set pieces and how they’re put together are really what make the film a fun watch. Sonny Chiba’s turn as a periodically sage-like figure who will also cut loose and kick ass at the drop of a dime makes for an enjoyable romp. The film’s style is also quite kinetic, with the camera almost always in motion, giving it a real intensity. Although Doberman Cop is mostly known by fans of Asian cinema, this gritty, noir-ish, and (from time to time) silly cop actioner is one of the hidden gems (at least in the U.S.) of both Kinji Fukasaku’s and Sonny Chiba’s careers.
Arrow Video’s presentation of Doberman Cop is taken from a high definition master supplied by Toei. It has the distinctive look of a vintage Japanese film from the era. It has some impressive depth and looks film-like with variable but thick grain and high levels of fine detail. Because of the kinetic style of the way it was filmed, certain shots appear a tad soft, which doesn’t reflect my final score, but is worth mentioning. Colors also have the same feel. While they may be bold and stand out in some scenes, they take a slight back seat in others. The same goes for skin tones, which are fairly natural for the most part. Black levels too are sometimes deep but other times lightened up by the grain, while brightness and contrast levels are satisfactory. Leftover film damage is minimal and the overall presentation is quite stable. However, I did notice in a sequence around the 45-minute mark where splices were visible at the top of the frame. Otherwise, it’s a transfer that looks like something that played in a cinema, which is the best compliment I can give it. The same goes for the audio, which is a Japanese 2.0 LPCM track. It sounds like many martial arts films often do, particularly the sound effects, but dialogue and score both have plenty of space to work in regardless. Hiss and other age-related issues are fairly inconsequential, but the flavor of the presentation itself is vintage. Optional English subtitles are also included, but are selected automatically when you start up the film.
For the extras on this release, there’s Beyond the Film: Doberman Cop, an introduction to and an overview of the film by Kinji Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane; Koji Takada: Cops, Pigs and Karate, which is an interview with the writer of the film; Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action - Vol. 2, an interview with the film’s star (Vol. 1 can be found on Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of Wolf Guy); the film’s theatrical trailer; a DVD copy; and a 32-page insert booklet with essays on the film, including “Doberman Days: Kinji Fukasaku, Sonny Chiba, and the Twilight of Toei Exploitation” by Patrick Macias and “Video Killed the Manga Star: Resurrecting the Doberman Cop” by Tom Mes, as well as restoration details.
Arrow Video continues their trend of digging up obscure genre films and giving them the spit and polish that they deserve. Doberman Cop certainly won’t garner the kind of following that many cult films nowadays do, but for fans of 1970s Asian cinema, particularly films starring Sonny Chiba, Doberman Cop should be on their to-see list.
- Tim Salmons