Tuesday, November 18, 2008
REVIEW: Stray Dog - Akira Kurosawa (1949)
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
On a blistering hot summer afternoon the last place you’d want to be is a jam packed streetcar, but that is exactly where Murakami, a rookie cop (Toshiro Mifune) finds himself at the beginning of Akira Kurosawa’s seminal 1949 noir film “Stray Dog”, and this is where Murakami will start a journey that will take him deep into the Tokyo underworld. As the streetcar wheezes to a stop and the passengers elbow their way off he realizes that his gun has been stolen. Thinking he knows who’s taken it he gives chase, but it’s no good and the man disappears down an alley and is gone… but was this the thief or just a decoy? As Murakami investigates further he realizes he’s gotten himself into maze full of false leads and dead ends. With the help of the more seasoned Detective Sato (Takashi Shimura) he goes on a mission to shake down every small time crook, gun runner and prostitute in order to get his gun back, but when a series of murders forensically linked to it begin Murakami’s search becomes more and more urgent.
Leave it up to Akira Kurosawa to set the bar again with this film that preceded his touchstone films “Rashomon”, “Seven Samurai” and “Ikiru”. Here he presents one of the first examples of the rookie cop buddied with a veteran cop formula that we’ve seen trotted out a million times in films like “Se7en”, “Training Day”, “The Untouchables”, etcetera, etcetera… but what is remarkable about a film that is nearing sixty years old is how fresh it still feels compared to so many other of its noir contemporaries. Prostitution, drugs, poverty; all are touched on and treated quite frankly while we’re also treated to an indepth police investigation complete with ballistics tests and interrogations that we of the “C.S.I.” generation crave so much. Kurosawa was never afraid of incorporating more “Western” themes in his films and this is just one of those examples, but in the same way that rock and roll was reintroduced to the American public by the British invasion Kurosawa used these Western influences to create his own kind of cinema that then became reintegrated into American film. In a film like “Stray Dog” you can take scenes like the showgirl twirling in her dress while a thunderstorm rages and easily think Spielberg.
But “Stray Dog” isn’t just all film school 101, it’s a fascinating social document as well. Many of the early scenes where Murakami must roam the streets looking for a gun dealer were filmed guerrilla-style on the actual ruined streets of Tokyo; a feat that was bold and potentially dangerous as the American occupying forces forbade content that directly addressed the fallout from the war.
Suffice to say I would highly recommend “Stray Dog” to anyone with an interest in Japanese cinema, or in cinema in general.