Cannes Hidden Gem: A Samurai and a Female Pro Wrestler Team Up in Revenge Thriller 'Dogman'

Courtesy of Te Digoque
Tamae Garateguy's 'Dogman'

Buenos Aires-based genre specialist Tamae Garateguy creates escapism inspired by her mixed ancestry in this colorful epic set in northern Argentina.

What kind of movies will audiences most want to see as the world emerges from the novel coronavirus pandemic? If thrillers and exotic escape are your buyer's bet — a reasonable guess after populations have spent months cooped up, totally unable to travel — then the Argentinian samurai revenge thriller Dogman could be a bankable project to board early.

Directed by Buenos Aires-based genre specialist Tamae Garateguy, the film follows a young half-Japanese, half Argentinian man named Tupac (played by Roberto "Chichi" Kim Fukaura) who is spared a life of aimlessness by the dawning desire to seek revenge on the Spanish mafia boss — an Almovodar-esque madame named "Mamita" — who murdered his family for protesting the corrupt mining deal she was orchestrating. Along the path to vengeance, Tupac transforms into Dogman, a self-styled samurai, and teams up with a Bolivian female professional wrestler (Peruvian actress Magali Solier) who shares his cause, and the unlikely duo face off against everything from Paraguayan ninjas to an enigmatic dealmaker known as "the Russian master" and a South American cowboy famous for his yellow boots.

In tone and style, early teaser footage suggests a strong Tarantino streak — but all of it transposed through the sensibility of an original South American, female action auteur. An avowed devotee of pulpy genre fare, Garateguy's earlier indie projects include She Wolf (Mujer Lobo), a sexploitation flick about a female serial killer who seduces her victims on the Buenos Aires subway; and Pompeya, a meta-gangster movie about a young screenwriter who is hired by a gangster to write the screenplay of a gangster movie.

But despite its genre-mashing zaniness, the roots of Dogman's story actually come from Garateguy's own family history. "The movie's mix of Latin America and Japanese samurai culture is sort of inspired by my grandfather, who came to Argentina from Japan as a young man in the 1940s and married an Argentinian woman, my grandmother," she explains. "He didn't speak to his family for like 30 years, because it was such a scandal. When I think of his life, I think, wow, how brave and adventurous that was. I came up with the story from that feeling — of these amazing, colorful cultures that don't really belong side by side but are brought together by a crazy character going on an adventure," she adds.

Garateguy and her executive producer Silvia Rodriguez brought the concept to the 2018 Macao International Film Festival's Project Market, where it received the platform's Creative Excellence award, along with a cash grant for development financing. Writer Nicolás Britos has since completed the film's script, and Garateguy and her partners are shopping it to potential Japanese co-producers and international financiers at this week's first-ever Virtual Cannes Market. Their ambition is to be in production by the start of 2021.

Garateguy says she sees Dogman's irreverent, surrealistic themes and style as out of synch with much of contemporary Latin American filmmaking — "naturalism and social realism is really promoted here" — but she suspects they could be oddly in tune with the global moment. "Look what reality is like now," she says. "What is realism now anyways?"

"That's what I love about genre," she adds, "is it's a starting point that makes the audience feel comfortable — so then you can go in any crazy direction you want and everyone has fun."