Stray Dog (1949)

15 06 2008

As I mentioned in my review for Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel, it is one of the greatest ironies that I think Kurosawa is at his best when he works within a genre I normally don’t care too much for – film noir. Perhaps it is not so much the fact that he is making films of such content, but rather the fact that he all these noirs during the early stage of his career. Like most young directors, he seems less imposed by traditions and more eager to experiment. Of course, not all of his decisions work perfectly but they do build up to something extremely energetic and exciting to watch. One of his best films, no question.

On a hot and crowded bus, rookie cop, Murakami, loses his gun. To avoid the embarrassment that comes from such a rookie mistake, he goes undercover, desperate to reclaim his weapon of choice. His leads all end up as dead ends, which only further taint his image. A veteran cop by the name of Sato takes him under his wing and tries to teach him the “business” so to speak. Meanwhile, Murakami’s confiscated pistol appears to be the weapon used in a series of murders.

Even more so than in Drunken Angel, Kurosawa’s pure “amateur-ness” seemed to help spark his most creative side and create, at least in my eyes, some of the greatest moments in his cinematic career. In all honesty, this is probably the worst pacing in any film I’ve ever seen. It opens rather simply and in typical Kurosawa fashion, but following the exposition, there is a ridiculously long montage of Toshiro Mifune walking in the streets of downtown Tokyo. It’s almost as Kurosawa has no idea that conventions even existed in cinema: if ever there was a film that could be considered “free-form” than this is it. Eventually, the film does come back down to Earth, but even then, it still showcases a Kurosawa far more daring than usual. It is here that he is able to indulge in sequences almost completely free from dialogue. Even though the film’s overall aesthetic is rather old-fashioned, it is Kurosawa’s attempt at making his film more visually-driven, that counts.

On the other hand, it is a bit bizarre to think that after two of the most original and inventive features, Kurosawa would go on to become such a second-rate director. I realize this isn’t the most popular belief, but it is impossible for one to not see the difference between this and Rashomon, which came out the following year. SImilarly, Mifune’s brilliantly alienated performance here seems like the polar opposite of the role he would play a year later in the aforementioned film. I suppose this could be an example of his range, but its hard to think that someone who appreciates his one-dimensional role in Rashomon would be equally fond of his much more reserved performance here, or vice versa. It seems that the Kurosawa / Mifune team may have reached its peak in the late 40s. Both this and Drunken Angel represent Kurosawa at his very best: smart, funny, and daring.

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15 responses

15 06 2008
Simon M.

I’ve been really interested lately in Kurosawa’s take on noir and hardboiled crime stories and just his movies taking place in the then-present in general. From what you said, Stray Dog sounds like a real gritty, well-made little crime thriller. Probably gonna be one of my next downloads 😀

16 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

One of my favorite Kurosawa films too.

I like plenty of stuff from the 50s quite a bit though (just not Rashomon or Ikiru or Hidden Fortress).

Have you seen Quiet Duel yet?

16 06 2008
Jake Savage

I think I’ll see Quiet Duel next, if not the earlier Setsuko Hara ones. Kurosawa did some good films in the 50s: The Idiot and The Lower Depths for sure. I have a good feeling the rest of the films on the Eclipse set are aligned to my taste as well.

16 06 2008
Dan

A very good noir, yep, even though I prefer the IMMENSE High and Low, which is a drama with noirish shades rather than a pure noir, effectively. 😀

16 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

I find High and Low to have a lot of highs and lows. ;~}

The best parts are very fine, but it strikes me as rather erratic.

16 06 2008
Jake Savage

I’m probably going to wait for the new Criterion disc of High and Low.

16 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

I saw High and Low screened (and it looked great). I’m waiting on the new Criterion version also….

16 06 2008
Dan

I watched the previous Criterion edition which was excellent. However, yes, the new Criterion will be stunning!
A question to everybody, not about Kurosawa: do you know when the next Shimizu H. boxset will be released?

16 06 2008
Jake Savage

June 24th, my friend! I’m as giddy as a Japanese schoolgirl by the harbor!

17 06 2008
Dan

The 24th? Seven days! “Seven days from now…” (Ringu quote) :DD

Arigato!

17 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

I’ve got Shimizu Box 2 on order already — along with some other Shochiku releases — Our Neighbor, Yae-chan, No consultations Today and Ball at Anju House (no subs on these, alas). Also Tasaka’s Mud Soldiers (from some offbrand company).

Now — when will Box 3 come — and what films will it include?

Back to Stray Dog — I believe Keiko Awaji (the sullen young girl) is still acting. I last saw her (playing an old lady) in Yudan taiteki (2004).

17 06 2008
Dan

Don’t know when the third box will be released. We hope

OT:
Michael, d’you have received my message on rozmon?
End OT.

17 06 2008
Dan

“do you have received”… blue error! 😀 I mean “have you received…?”

And I haven’t finished the previous sentence (absent-minded, today) “we hope it’ll be released in July!”.

17 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

Dan —

Try sending an e-mail to criterionforum@criterionforum.org.

18 06 2008
Dan

Thanks!

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