Detective, Films I Love, Japanese Cinema

Stray Dog(1949)

If you thought that Akira Kurosawa’s films were all historical epics, featuring swordfights and Samurai warriors, then you really need to think again. Kurosawa also made several dramas and thrillers set in the present day of his time(40’s and 50’s Japan.) Two of my favourites amongst these particular set of films, are Ikiru and The Quiet Duel. 

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Murakami gets desperate. Screenshot by me.

Stray Dog is another great favourite of mine. It is a type of film that I dearly wish Kurosawa had made more of. I really do love Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai films, but I find that his somewhat lesser known drama films have become even more special to me than his Samurai films have. It is to these more intimate drama films that I keep returning again and again.

The film is set in 1940’s Japan, and it takes place during a rather oppressive heatwave. This Noir Thriller features Kurosawa’s regular lead actor Toshiro Mifune. Toshiro delivers one of the best performances of his career in this film. He is excellent 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 and get it back. As time goes on, Murakami finds that his gun has moved on from the pickpocket who snatched it and has been passed into the criminal underworld.

Murakami becomes guilt ridden after it is discovered his stolen gun has become 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 help in seeking his own redemption). Murakami is helped by veteran detective Sato(Takashi Shimura, who is also at his best here, perfectly conveying wisdom and world weariness).

Stray Dog
Publicity still for the film. Image source IMDb

This is such a good film. It is exciting, moving and very thrilling too. There is some striking photography by Asaichi Nakai, and some strong performances from pretty much everyone in the cast. Even people who feature for a small amount of screen time make a real impression. The film is shot on location and that really adds a great deal of authenticity to the story we are watching. The film also shows us the good and bad sides of life in that country. The film also shows us a side of Japanese life which we don’t see too often on screen, that of nightclubs and dancehalls.

The film rarely lets up on its edge the seat thrills, but there are some quieter moments to be found too. A scene that always stays with me after viewing is the one where the grief stricken husband of a woman killed by Murakami’s stolen gun sits sobbing in his wife’s garden; we see (as does Murakami)the terrible impact such a crime has on the victims loved ones.

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The wise Sato. Screenshot by me.

Interestingly Sato seems quite distant in that scene, which to me shows that he has seen so many similar things in his career. Due to his experience at dealing with such crimes 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 detective 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 who we should actually 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. The lives of both the victims and perpetrators of crime are ruined and forever altered by criminal activity of one sort or another.

Strangely enough Akira Kurosawa himself never actually regarded this film very highly for some reason. I’d love to know why that was, as this really is one of his very best films. If you’re not really into Japanese cinema that much, then I think that Stray Dog would serve as a great introduction.

If you are already a fan of this flick please share your thoughts with me below.

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “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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