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Monday, December 15, 2014

Stray Dog (1949) d. Akira Kurosawa

Stray Dog (1949)
d. Akira Kurosawa
Criterion Collection #233

  Stray Dog is a police procedural Kurosawa released the year before his 1950 break-out Rashomon.  His other major contemporary crime films were from the 1960s: High and Low (1960) and The Bad Sleep Well (1963).  I think you can make the case that Kurosawa's crime films are easier to watch than the period/Samurai stuff that he is famous for.  One of the major achievements of the Criterion Collection period is to keep almost Akira Kurosawa's entire output "in print" and available to stream on Hulu Plus.

  I think the argument that you make for Kurosawa is that he is the Japanese equivalent to Shakespeare: the single Artist the reader must understand to understand the art of the Artists nation. In this way, the crime thrillers are significant since they show Kurosawa working in the present.  The present is very close to the surface in Stray Dog, set in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Rice ration cards are used as currency, and Police Detective Murakami (played by a young Toshiro Mifune) is a solder freshly returned from the end of World War II.

  The story is set in motion when Murakami has his gun lifted from his jacket pocket on the bus coming home from target practice. Its loss sets off a frenzied search by the distraught Detective to find his missing weapon.  Murakami is paired up with the older sage Sato (Takashi Shimura).  The pairing of Shimura with Mifune was a delight, but the real star of the movie is Tokyo in a pre-boom state that provides an unfamiliar perspective on Japan's largest city.

 The scene most often referenced comes when Murakami goes undercover to try and find his gun.  The panoply of misery approaches anything in Italian neo-realism.  The Criterion Collection essay by critic Terrence Rafferty calls Stray Dog Kurosawa's "neo realist" crime drama and that is largely true.

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