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Stray Dog (1949)


It's all about that little cap he wears... teehee!
It's all about that little cap he wears... teehee!

Genre: Mystery Crime Noir Thriller (Japan)

Starring: Toshirô Mifune (The Bad Sleep WellThe Hidden Fortress), Takashi Shimura (MothraIkiru)

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa (KagemushaThrone Of Blood)

Overview: Rookie Homicide detective Murakami gets his pistol pickpocketed. As he searches the streets to find the culprit, he learns that the gun is being used in a series of violent crimes. Murakami receives the aid of veteran detective Sato to track him down.

Feel free to click here to skip the spoiler bit at the beginning.

When one thinks about a Hollywood film in which a man is committing crimes with a stolen gun, one seldom thinks of the fact that the man's supply of bullets would ever be included as part of the equation. In Stray Dog, however, a story about a cop having his own gun used in terrible crimes, the ammunition itself plays a major part in the character development and the actions taken by our ashamed detective.

When lifted, Murakami's pistol is fully loaded with seven rounds, and with every new crime scene a lead brings him to, there's always one less round, and one more gash of guilt on Murakami's conscience. As his shame and self-hatred grows with every discharged bullet, his dishonour drives him to submit his resignation. Rather than being allowed to walk away from his problems he's made to work alongside a veteran to finish what he started. Bullets used in robberies are dug out of walls, then later dug out of murder victims, until his very own partner falls prey to the weapon, leaving Murakami to fend for himself and face the criminal, Yusa, alone.

Yusa, a man all too similar to Murakami, points Murakami's own pistol at him, still containing three rounds, in a perfect progression of the Doppelgänger theme present in Stray Dog. Murakami stares Yusa in the face, stoic, inviting the bullets in self-sacrifice to ensure that even if he does not manage to capture the criminal, at least three more lives won't be taken because of Murakami's own ineptitude.

Kurosawa is certainly one fond of rain

Kurosawa is certainly one fond of rain

The overall atmosphere of Stray Dog is genuinely immersive. Mostly taking place in the darker, more sinister and still-ruined bombed-out post-war Tokyo streets during an oppressive heat wave, our characters are surrounded by the moral decay of an crushed, occupied, war-torn city.

But sadly, the overall plot of Stray Dog is all too wafer thin, dragging on by following another redundant lead, and never truly making any grand headway save for the more personal discoveries and insights of the self that are made by our hero.

If it's one thing I've grown to appreciate about Kurosawa, it's his love of rain and his ability to present a dramatic climax appropriate for the film's genre, and again Kurosawa delivers a stunning piece of cinema with the final showdown, however the performances and the script just don't have the punch Kurosawa is capable of.

Toshiro trades in his sword and armour for a civil servant's job
Toshiro trades in his sword and armour for a civil servant's job

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 8 Script: 5 Plot: 5 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 66% (Grrr, Arf)

Damnit, three days after seeing the crappily translated bootleg-box-from-China version I had access to, I learned that Criterion had redone this, which may have changed my experience. After reading reviews and details about this film it seems that my overall displeasure with Stray Dog is somewhat rare. Often considered his 'first masterpiece', Stray Dog has won many awards and acclaim and has made many a person say that as a precursor to Rashomon, the film that made Kurosawa truly famous, he's beginning to break out of his influences and plot his own course.

Well nuts to that, I saw it waaaay back in his Drunken Angel days!

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