NOTE: For this post, please put your finger over the “Thanks” part of the Thanks Japan! category title and imagine it reads “Fuck You” instead.
Earlier this year I was farting about in Tokyo on the lookout for silly shit to bring back home. Each time I visited a Book Off (an amazing chain of stores selling second-hand books, games, videos and music), I’d have a sneaky sift through the VHS tapes in an attempt to find something unfamiliar. Unfortunately, the selection was much like any other local thrift shop. A Jerry Maguire tape here, a copy Titanic tape there (albeit with katakana titles) – there was rarely anything worth a second glance. That is until I spotted the JVD logo on a scummy looking spine. Japan Video Distribution are responsible for the distribution of most (all?) of sicko Daisuke Yamanouchi’s films – Muzan-E (1999), Kyoko vs. Yuki (2000) and Girl Hell 1999 (1999) to name a few – and a bunch more sleazy stuff. With a video cover featuring a demented Jinmenken (more on that later), it was an easy sell at 300 yen. Little did I know, I’d just bought one of the worst fucking tapes Japan ever produced.
THE HUMAN-FACED DOG
original title: ザ・人面犬 (The Jin-Men-Ken)
Japan, 1990, JVD
Japan’s urban legends and folklore are far removed from the Western world. There’s the yōkai, of course, but there’s also oddities that pop up every few decades like the Kuchisake-onna. Other than the anus-sucking kappa, there’s no folktale stranger than the Jinmenken, the Human-Faced Dog. I won’t go into too much detail here (if you’re really interested, check out this article), but, in short, the Human-Faced Dog is exactly what its name suggests: a human-faced dog.
The legend of the Human-Faced Dog goes all the way to Tokugawa era Japan. In stories, the Human-Faced Dog is initially mistaken for a normal, mangy dog, but as the unlucky passerby gets closer the human features become apparent. Sightings are always at night, and the dog, if approached, will morosely tell people, “Leave me alone”. The Human-Faced Dog took on a new life in more recent times, its peak of popularity in the late 80s and early 90s, where it was claimed to have been seen on highways, chasing cars at enormous speeds and causing car crashes.
This brings us to JVD’s The Human-Faced Dog. Released in 1990, towards the tail end of Jinmenken fever, this video is presented as a faux-documentary exploring the folklore behind the urban legend. I say faux-documentary, but I don’t know if that’s the right term. The Human-Faced Dog betrays its own format. It’s mostly comprised of terribly fake interviews with goofy characters blabbering endlessly about their experiences with the Jinmenken intercut with footage of a puppet hiding in bushes, then suddenly we’re thrust into a making of said Jinmenken puppet.
The behind the scenes footage is probably the most enjoyable sequence of the whole horrible video, but what the hell is it doing in here? Surely this unintentional metatextual stupidity only takes away from the repetitive scenes of the filmmakers showing a poor dog with a human mask strapped to its head to screaming Japanese schoolgirls? I’m guessing it was required to stretch out the video’s already meagre running time.
Despite its whopping original price tag, The Human-Faced Dog runs for less than forty minutes. And much of that footage is drawn out, slowed down and reused with almost every second of screen time feeling like filler. JVD even has the audacity to rewind the entire fucking film during the elongated end credits. Yes, we see everything again – backwards and in fast-motion – while an atrocious song plays in the background.
I will give credit where credit is due: I did laugh hysterically during the final seconds of the video where we are treated to shitty text animation and a crappy sound effect.
There’s another pretty funny moment where a guy in a hat shows his Jinmenken drawings. But sadly, this is followed by a really long interview with another guy in a hat (a different sort of hat, for the record) who stands outside Nakano Broadway and dispenses a bunch of bullshit about the Jinmenken.
This is followed by another interview with an American guy – no doubt, the worst actor in the cast – who wears sunglasses and has a Donald Duck cup. Unfortunately the narrator speaks over him so we can’t hear his stupid voice.
He shows us a silly photo of a Jinmenken, which is put into a silly computer and analysed in a silly program.
The remainder of the film features a lot shots of a dog in a human mask walking around and a few close ups of its face in puppet form. At one point, they put glasses on the Jinmenken puppet. I’m not sure why, but I suppose it’s pretty funny. There’s a few more scenes of schoolgirls screaming, then a weird guy, clad in hat and sunglasses, wraps things up. I just realised that every single interviewee bar one wears a stupid hat or sunglasses, or both.
Fuck me. I would have been furious if I had of bought this back in 1990 for 7000 yen. The Human-Faced Dog is a confusing mess, which would be fine if it wasn’t so damned boring. This video is the definition of nothing. It’s a worthless waste of a good puppet and certainly a worthless waste of tape. And yes, I’m very pleased this worthless waste of nothing is worthlessly wasting space on my shelf.
The Human-Faced Dog is only available on VHS from Japan. I suppose you could find it on Yahoo Auctions or Amazon Japan and pay an exuberant amount for shipping. But is it really worth it, pal? (The answer is no.) Only buy this if you come across for a buck or two, even then you’re paying too much, sir.