Yakuza movies have always fascinated me. It’s interesting to see how this crime organization is implemented in the big theater. What it’s like to see through the lens of the members or the cops involved. The latest addition to this genre, Hell Dogs, is a mix of both.
Hell Dogs is a Japanese film directed by Masato Harada and is based on a novel by the same name with Akio Fukamachi as the writer. It tells a story about a cop who’s hell-bent on getting revenge over a crime which killed his loved one and spent 10 years to fulfill it. He then turned himself in to the police but who would’ve thought he would be made an undercover cop with a mission to infiltrate the Yakuza and destroy it from within.
The thing that makes this movie shine is the way the main character act. Shogo Kanetaka (Junichi Okada) is the undercover cop we’re talking earlier. Now the idea of an undercover cop is not a novel one. It’s been done since a long time ago, 66 years long ago with the TV series Decoy in 1957 – 1958. Fast forward to present day, there’s been a lot of movies that are based around the theme.
What’s different about Hell Dogs is Kanetaka’s dedication to the job. Most undercover cop movies are a bit squeamish when the main character have to bonk someone on the head. That just doesn’t make sense, you’re infiltrating a crime syndicate or the Yakuza in this case yet you hesitate when pulling the trigger. That’s a rookie mistake 101. Kanetaka however is not afraid to pull the trigger, willing to get dirty in order to complete the mission.
Thus granting him trust and respect in the Yakuza even getting to be the secretary of the boss. Although he didn’t hold that position for long. But before that he have to start from the bottom as a hitman. Initially the police’s way of getting Kanetaka into the Yakuza is by befriending Muro (Kentaro Sakaguchi) who is a member of the Hell Dogs, an elite team of hitmen of the Yakuza. He got along quickly with Kanetaka and as time goes by Kanetaka and Muro forged a brotherly bond.
The dynamics between these two is like no other, one is an undercover cop who’s willing to use anything to accomplish his goals and one is a distraught individual, victim of child abuse and emotionally unhinged. Because of this, Muro is often left out from important matters while Kanetaka is efficient and good at his job so he rose through the ranks in no amount of time.
Let’s now talk about the action scenes, the meat of any action movies. Since this is a Yakuza movie, you’re going to see a lot of action and blood. Well, the movie does have fight scenes and they’re among the best of asian action movies but they’re spaced a bit too far instead focusing on info dumps and introducing characters. Speaking of characters, there’s way too many supporting characters in this movie.
I get that this is a Yakuza, a humongous organization. But we don’t need to know every single one of them. Just call them Goon A or Goon B and job’s done. Instead they gave them names and if it’s just this problem then I’m fine with it, at least I can appreciate the screenwriters’ hard work. But there’s some names that when they were first introduced seems unimportant but all of a sudden at the middle of the movie, they become important.
So then you’re stuck wondering ‘who’s this dude again?’. For example, Nas-teeth. His first appearance is when Kanetaka and Muro went into their office and realized that the password to the door has changed. So the others order Nas-teeth to open it and immediately got kicked by Kanetaka. After that you never see him again. Except when Kanetaka goes to his former police box (Koban) and his former colleague shouts his real name, Nas-teeth who was nearby saw him and now holds this secret which can reveal Kanetaka’s true identity.
Not only too many characters but pacing is a bit of a problem in Hell Dogs. Parts that are supposed to be fast are slow yet parts that’re supposed to be slow are fast. The meeting scene where Toake (the boss) meets with Tawaraya is dragged on for too long, you have to sit through it because something important happened in it, you can’t just skip the scene. Meanwhile the explanation of the Yakuza structure of power at the beginning is way too rushed and you’re left confused until you realize it yourself as the movie plays on.
Another problem is the ending. It’s just so lackluster and anticlimactic that it makes you think is it worth the watch? Well my answer to that question is yes. Besides the problems plaguing Hell Dogs, there’s something in this movie that’s worth watching.
This 2 hour and 18 minutes of an experience gives us a glimpse behind a Yakuza’s life, the dangers that lurk behind every corner, the almost familial bonds between every member and bosses. These all make for an interesting argument to watch for noir action lovers.
Although Hell Dogs is far from perfect, it’s kinda like that feeling when you’re cooking but you didn’t put enough salt in it. The end result will still turn out fine but it just lacks something. The thing that would make it perfect. This movie is the same, missing that single piece of the puzzle to complete the set. Hell Dogs is a movie that’s touching greatness.
Our Score (7/10)
Title: Hell Dogs -In The House Of Bamboo-
Production: Sony Pictures, Toei Company
Director: Masato Harada
Writers: Akio Fukamachi, Masato Harada
Cast: Junichi Okada, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Mayu Matsuoka, Takemasa Ishihara (Miyavi), Kazuki Kitamura