Detective, Japanese Cinema

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 2: Stray Dog(1949)

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If you thought that Akira Kurosawa’s films were all historical epics, featuring swordfights and Samurai, then you really need to think again. Kurosawa also made several dramas and thrillers set in the present day(40’s and 50’s Japan.)

Two of my favourites of these are Ikiru and The Quiet Duel.  Stray Dog is another great favourite, and it is a type of film that I dearly wish Kurosawa had made more of. I love his Samurai films, but I find these other films have become even more special to me and it is these films that I keep returning to again and again.

Set during an oppressive heatwave, this Noir/Thriller features Kurosawa’s regular lead actor Toshiro Mifune, as the sweat soaked, keen, rookie detective Murakami. When his police gun is stolen from him he doesn’t stop trying to track it down. As time goes on, Murakami finds that his gun has moved on from the pickpocket who snatched it and into the criminal underworld.

Murakami becomes guilt ridden when the gun becomes linked to crimes. It is at this point that he has to ask for help in his search for the gun(and in a way his own redemption). Murakami is helped by veteran detective Sato(Takashi Shimura at his best, perfectly conveying wisdom).

This is such a good film, exciting, moving and very thrilling. There is some striking photography by Asaichi Nakai, and strong performances from pretty much everyone in the cast; even people who feature for a small amount of screentime make a real impression. The film is shot on location and shows us the good and bad sides of the country; it also shows us a side of Japanese life we don’t see too often on screen, nightclubs and dancehalls.

The film rarely lets up on it’s edge of your seat thrills, but there are some quieter moments to be found too. A scene that always stays with me after viewing, shows the grief stricken husband of a woman killed by Murakami’s stolen gun sobbing in his wife’s garden; we see (as Murakami does)the terrible impact such a crime has on the victims loved ones, interestingly Sato seems distant in that scene, which shows that he has seen so many similar things; he has in a way become used to and hardened against such things. Sato tries to teach Murakami that he can’t get personally involved in every case, if he did the emotions would break him apart; but the older detective also knows he can’t teach that, it is something that has to be learnt by bitter experience. Sato and Murakami’s odd couple relationship also predates the buddy cop plots which are so common in films and series today.

The finale in the field is tense and deeply moving, as we find ourselves feeling some pity for someone we should hate. If the film tells us anything it is that crime is a destroyer and waster all round, there are only losers in such a life, both the victims and the perpetrators lives are ruined and altered by criminal activity of one sort or another.

Strangely enough, Kurosawa himself never actually regarded this film very highly for some reason, I’d love to know why, as it is one of his very best.

A great one to watch over the weekend. If you’re not really into Japanese cinema this would serve as a great introduction, give it a go and share your thoughts.

If, like me, you are already a fan of this flick then please share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 2: Stray Dog(1949)”

  1. Stray Dog is my kind of film and it gets better with every viewing.
    Kurosawa takes a simple story and makes it feel as important as his epic masterpieces. We’re so used to watching films where just about everyone has a gun that this one feels refreshing, because one gun and it’s bullets aren’t just the centre of the story they’re the most important thing in the world.
    “Bad luck can make a man or destroy a man.”

    Liked by 1 person

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