A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, April 4, 2016

Stray Dog (Akira Kurosawa, 1949)

Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, who starred in Seven Samurai, appeared together five years earlier in this noir detective story. In a crowded bus on a sweltering day, Murakami (Mifune), a rookie homicide detective, has his gun stolen by a pickpocket. He gives chase but loses the thief, and shamefacedly has to report it to headquarters. To make matters worse, he soon discovers that the gun has been used in a robbery, wounding the victim. He begins a dogged search for the gun. In an extended sequence Kurosawa's depiction of police work takes us into the lower depths of post-war Tokyo as Murakami follows a lead that suggests the gun may have been sold on the underground gun market. Murakami's guilt becomes more intense after ballistics work reveals that his gun had been used in a robbery homicide and he witnesses the grief of the victim's husband. But he's teamed up with a veteran detective, Sato (Shimura), who persuades Murakami not to quit the force and accompanies him in an effort to retrieve the weapon. It's not only a well-made thriller but also a complex portrait of the lingering effects of the war on the Japanese populace, peering into sleazy nightclubs and cobbled-together hovels. Mifune and Shimura are a fine team, with the former far more restrained than he was in Seven Samurai and the latter adding a deeper note of warmth to the quiet integrity he demonstrated as the leader of the samurai band. Keiko Awaji plays the nightclub dancer who knows the hangouts of the gunman (Isao Kimura, who played the naive young samurai Katsushiro in the later film) but is reluctant to give him up. A vivid supporting cast and Asakazu Nakai's atmospheric cinematography make this more than just a skillful reworking of an American genre movie.