Monday, March 8, 2010

Stray Dog (1949)


When a rookie homicide detective, Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) has his gun lifted from him on his first day, he frantically searches the streets for it. But when it starts being used in a variety of murders he must team up with seasoned veteran Sato (Takashi Shimura) to hunt down the killer.

"A stray dog sees only what it chases."

Part noir throw back, part classic cops and robbers tale, Kurosawa's Stray Dog is without a doubt one of his more mainstream flairs. Riddled with great direction, and character substance, Mifune and Shimura's amazing ability to play off the strength and weaknesses of each other is on perfect display here. It's the sort of film you pop in on a cool afternoon, sit back, and just enjoy. It's got style, smooth transitions, and all the great dialogue you could ever feast your ears on. It works on so many subtle levels it manages to transition into the air of cool that would eventually lead to the birth of Yojimbo (style wise at least).

At the heart of the film is the relationship between Mifune and Shimura's respective characters. The two just play perfectly off each other, and Stray Dog really allows them to shine. We can fully see why they were so popular with Kurosawa, and really get a grasp for what made them so successful throughout their careers. And the supporting cast is simply divine. None over acting, all playing to the Kurosawa tune, it really feels as if all the performances are perfectly in synch here.

And as for the directing, it's simply marvelous. The final confrontation scene is such an amazing sequence, and the pan shot going from Mifune's face down his arm is to die for (really I can never shake the shot out of my head, it's so well executed). Of course, as with any film, it suffers its downfalls. Perhaps it's a sentiment of the time, but Stray Dog does lean a bit towards the simple plot contrivances you find in other works of the time. As well, and perhaps the greatest setback, is that it's about 20minutes longer than it needs to be. A few too many side conversations linger on minor plot details, and falsetto character development. Yet, upon my revisit I found these scenes to be far more telling of the Kurosawa viewpoint on life. Hidden here is his opinion of cops, and what poverty can lead men to do. The sort of things found stamped throughout all of his work. It's just that he's done it a bit better else-where.

Stray Dog is Kurosawa's directing at its finest. A high entertainment, noir cop thriller, riddled with mystery and morality. Still, it's thinly spread plot will not hit all viewers quite so respectfully.

Alternate Perspectives:

"I found this movie to be a serviceable ‘cop’ film, but didn’t find myself as engaged as I’ve come to expect from a film from Mr. Kurosawa." - GmanReviews

Got a review of Stray Dog? Email me a link at and I'll include it here!

5 better thoughts:

Paolo said...

I personally loved this film. While the plot isn't the strongest its absolute noir entertainment at its finest.

TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

You know I just noticed this but Day #24 is no more Kurosawa and is actually my birthday! I couldn't ask for a better gift, other than no more anime... but I have to be somewhat realistic right?

Univarn said...

@Paolo I can see that. I just felt it was a bit overly long.

@MVP Well you're in luck, despite the 24th being a Wednesday my anime reviews won't start back up again until the following week :)

How about as a birthday gift (since I'm cheap) you request a movie review on that day and I'll do my best to deliver ;)

TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

@Univarn - hmmm... sounds good to me I'll get back to you on that.

Alex DeLarge said...

I think this film has a very well defined plot: but it's not about a stolen handgun. That is only the means to propel the characters towards self-enlightenment, kinda like Hitchcock's McGuffin.

Kurosawa is looking inside his characters and his cinematic device is more literary: how two men so alike chose vastly different paths. A stray dog is on a one way path, and both the criminal and Mifune are racing down this path. When Shimura tells this to Mifune, they are on a train and Kurosawa focuses upon the tracks...going only one way.

I definately agree that it is about 20 minutes too long: Kurosawa drags the montage a bit too far when Mifune is cruising the slums...but the cinematography is so damn beautiful!

Overall, a very good film whose ending will be reflected in a better film noir: HIGH AND LOW.

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