Stray Dog (1949)

15 06 2008

As I mentioned in my review for Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel, it is one of the greatest ironies that I think Kurosawa is at his best when he works within a genre I normally don’t care too much for – film noir. Perhaps it is not so much the fact that he is making films of such content, but rather the fact that he all these noirs during the early stage of his career. Like most young directors, he seems less imposed by traditions and more eager to experiment. Of course, not all of his decisions work perfectly but they do build up to something extremely energetic and exciting to watch. One of his best films, no question.

On a hot and crowded bus, rookie cop, Murakami, loses his gun. To avoid the embarrassment that comes from such a rookie mistake, he goes undercover, desperate to reclaim his weapon of choice. His leads all end up as dead ends, which only further taint his image. A veteran cop by the name of Sato takes him under his wing and tries to teach him the “business” so to speak. Meanwhile, Murakami’s confiscated pistol appears to be the weapon used in a series of murders.

Even more so than in Drunken Angel, Kurosawa’s pure “amateur-ness” seemed to help spark his most creative side and create, at least in my eyes, some of the greatest moments in his cinematic career. In all honesty, this is probably the worst pacing in any film I’ve ever seen. It opens rather simply and in typical Kurosawa fashion, but following the exposition, there is a ridiculously long montage of Toshiro Mifune walking in the streets of downtown Tokyo. It’s almost as Kurosawa has no idea that conventions even existed in cinema: if ever there was a film that could be considered “free-form” than this is it. Eventually, the film does come back down to Earth, but even then, it still showcases a Kurosawa far more daring than usual. It is here that he is able to indulge in sequences almost completely free from dialogue. Even though the film’s overall aesthetic is rather old-fashioned, it is Kurosawa’s attempt at making his film more visually-driven, that counts.

On the other hand, it is a bit bizarre to think that after two of the most original and inventive features, Kurosawa would go on to become such a second-rate director. I realize this isn’t the most popular belief, but it is impossible for one to not see the difference between this and Rashomon, which came out the following year. SImilarly, Mifune’s brilliantly alienated performance here seems like the polar opposite of the role he would play a year later in the aforementioned film. I suppose this could be an example of his range, but its hard to think that someone who appreciates his one-dimensional role in Rashomon would be equally fond of his much more reserved performance here, or vice versa. It seems that the Kurosawa / Mifune team may have reached its peak in the late 40s. Both this and Drunken Angel represent Kurosawa at his very best: smart, funny, and daring.