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Japan 1949
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
122 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Stray Dog

The back-and-forth relationship between Kurosawa's samurai films and Hollywood is well known but with this film, made the year before Rashomon brought the director an international reputation, Kurosawa who co-wrote the script in his first collaboration with Ryûzô Kikushima, combined Hollywood 1940s crime film with distinctively Japanese sense of melodrama with a quasi documentary look at the country in the immediate post-war years. The latter aspect, particularly the long scenes of Tokyo's bustling lower depths and stock footage of baseball matches, tends to make the film feel overlong, at least from the narrative perspective although a scene in a nightclub with the unsexiest chorus line you're ever likely to see is worth a replay.

Stray Dog tells the story of Detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune), whose gun is stolen on a crowded bus and his obsessive hunt for it. Kurosawa uses this quest to address the question of whether morality is purely circumstantial, Murakami and Yusa, the man he is pursuing, who we barely see, representing opposite sides of the same coin. Both men are ex-veterans who respond the essentially the same incident  in contrasting ways, Yusa blaming his misfortune, Murakami turning it around

Whilst to contemporary Japanese experiencing the collapse of the old Imperial order with defeat in WWII this question would no doubt have great resonance, the problem remains with us all even if not so insistently and Kurosawa's cinematic treatment of it is still vital today.




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