The Human-Faced Dog – original title: ザ・人面犬 aka The Jin-Men-Ken – is a 1990 Japanese fake documentary film about an urban myth.
Dave Jackson from the wonderfully entertaining blog Mondo Exploito explains:
Look at that video cover. How could I resist? The cover promises prosthetic effects, gore and sleazy shot-on-video cinematography. It breaks that promise something rotten, but before I get into the review, I suppose I should briefly explain what a Jinmenken is. 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 ass-sucking kappa, there’s no folktale stranger than the Jinmenken, the Human-Faced Dog. I won’t go into too much detail here 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 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 f*cking film during the elongated end credits. Yes, we see everything
again – backwards and in fast-motion – while an atrocious song plays in the background. There’s a 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.
I would have been furious if I had 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.
Dave Jackson, MOVIES and MANIA – guest reviewer via Mondo Exploito