A solid, entertaining hybrid of pooch pic and cop thriller, “Dog x Police: The K-9 Force” follows in the paw prints of canine-themed Japanese hits “Quill” and “Rokku: Wanko no shima,” and has retrieved more than $9 million locally since its October preem. Story revolves around a maverick cop who needs to learn about teamwork, played by handsome thesp Hayato Ichihara, though auds have mostly been drawn by his albino canine co-star, Shiro (Japanese for “white”). Offshore, pic will work for Asia-themed sidebars that are unabashedly entertainment-focused, but will die like a dog elsewhere.
A strong opening sequence depicts the confused aftermath of a bomb explosion in a Tokyo shopping plaza. While administering crowd control, cop Yusaku Hayakawa (Ichihara) thinks he spots the culprit and gives chase, only to collide with a veterinarian (Kitaro) on a bicycle; after apprehending his suspect, Hayakawa helps the vet deliver four puppies to a troubled German shepherd, even rescuing an albino pup thought to be stillborn.
When his suspect turns out not to be the bomber, Hayakawa is assigned to the dog squad as punishment for disregarding procedure. Slow to adjust to this puppy purgatory, Hayakawa has trouble fitting in with his colleagues, who have such intimate bonds with their charges that they even test the dog food themselves. Hayakawa’s attitude changes when he is paired with the same white dog, Shiro (Shiro), whose life he saved in the opening sequence.
Moral lessons about teamwork dovetail well with the pic’s action elements as the hunt continues for the still-at-large bomber (Ryuya Wakaba), who is ruthlessly targeting high-tech corporations, the names of which play on famous Japanese conglomerates. Unfortunately, the script’s credibility takes a nosedive with the appearance of a black-clad, bespectacled computer visionary called Steven Jubs, which swings the film into “Naked Gun” territory at its climax just as it should be taking on a greater solemnity. (Nevertheless, Nipponese B.O. was not affected, nor the distributor humbled, by the death of Steve Jobs during the pic’s local release.)
This misjudgment aside, tube helmer Go Shichitaka manages to keep the drama ticking, particularly in the tense, well-handled negotiation scenes between the police and the bomber. The director also avoids presenting his various canine thesps in too cloying a fashion; Ichihara (“Rookies,” “All About Lily Chou-Chou”) has good chemistry with his four-legged co-star and effectively walks a thin line between sympathetic and insubordinate. Erika Toda (“Death Note”) is strong as the skeptical dog trainer who becomes Hayakawa’s love interest, and Wakaba nails a sinister-sicko role at least partially cribbed from Dennis Hopper’s bomber in “Speed.”
Decision to eschew CGI effects in favor of more traditional means of rendering explosions gives the pic a strong, realistic and visceral impact. For the record, Shiro is not an albino dog but a white shepherd, a breed in its own right.