Stray Dog (Akira Kurosawa, 1949)

19Jul10

Toshirô Mifune (Detective Murakami), Takashi Shimura (Detective Sato). Screenplay by Ryûzô Kikushima and Akira Kurosawa. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Rating: PG. Running time: 122 minutes.

Another hugely moralised tale from Akira Kurosawa, Stray Dog follows a senior detective and rookie cop as they begin a hunt for a mysterious man in white linen, hiding in the Japanese underworld in the midst of a sweltering summer heat wave. It is the latter that has his pistol stolen by pickpockets at the beginning of the film, and for a large amount of time he is the Stray Dog on a solitary, shame-driven quest to get it back. When the said weapon is used in various crimes, however, the shame soon turns to guilt, and the older, wiser, Detective Sato is assigned to the case to help end it once and for all.

The two men differ drastically in attitude, and there are hints at those classic discussions had in Rashômon between whether natural evil or only polluted minds through social conditioning is the true answer to the explanation of crime. The older cop quite stoically opts for the former view, and sees his job merely as a focused law-enforcer, out to impede their flow and ultimately stop them all together. The younger man is a little more sympathetic, or perhaps optimistic, though naturally this job and the film’s events test such an approach to the limits.

This is all to the backdrop of a dash from tracking down amateur pickpockets, onto official weapon renters and finally the hunted man’s woman as sources of intelligence. It all leads to a hugely tense and innovative scene as the guilt-struck cop hones in on the suspected burglar turned murderer, before they descend on a desolate field to battle it out. Kurosawa didn’t rate his own effort here that highly, but to us it is quiet yet wonderful, wonderful stuff. A perfect mix of crime related thrills and serious philosophy.

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