Stray Dog (1949)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Sojiro Motoki
Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Ryūzō Kikushima
Cinematography by Asakazu Makai
Shintoho Production Company
Distributed by Toho
(2:02) FilmStruck - New to me
Stray Dog was Akira Kurosawa’s ninth film, arriving just one year before his masterwork Rashomon, which was followed by Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958) and many other films that place him firmly in the upper echelon of great filmmakers. If Stray Dog isn’t great, it’s exceptionally good.
While on a crowded Tokyo streetcar, rookie homicide cop Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) realizes someone has stolen his police issue Colt.
In an unsuccessful attempt to track down the pickpocket, Murakami eventually discovers a gun racket. Even more unsettling, he learns that his gun was used in a recent crime. Murakami’s tunnel vision is interrupted when he’s assigned to work with a veteran cop, Detective Satō (Takashi Shimura).
Stray Dog is tremendous, not only as a police procedural (which actually moves rather slowly), but as an examination of postwar Japan. Kurosawa examines how the war affects the economy, crime, generational differences, and much more. Even if you aren’t aware of the many facets of post WWII Japanese history, Stray Dog provides a fascinating look at how the Japanese culture responded to the aftermath of the war.
I could write page after page about Kurosawa’s storytelling techniques, his composition and framing, the tremendous cast, and much more, but I urge you to see the film and discover these things for yourself. If you are a FilmStruck subscriber, you can watch Stray Dog until the service ends on November 29. If not, you can find the film on DVD, although according to DVD Beaver, the print used for the 2004 DVD transfer wasn’t all that great. Right now the only way to see the film on Blu-ray (which may not be much of an improvement over the DVD) is on either a Japanese or French Blu-ray, neither of which have English subtitles. Let’s hope for a restored North American Blu-ray soon.
Next time: Special guest Noir Girl joins me for a discussion of a film produced by King Brothers Productions.
Photos: Static Mass Emporium, RareFilm, Toho, Kurosawa in Review