Stray Dog (1949) 




Director:     Akira Kurosawa

Starring:     Toshirô Mifune (Det. Murakami), Takashi Shimura (Det. Sato), Keiko Awaji (Harumi Namaki, showgirl), Eiko Miyoshi (Harumi's mother), Noriko Sengoku (Girl), Noriko Honma (Wooden Tub Shop woman), Reikichi Kawamura, Eijirô Tôno, Yasushi Nagata, Katsuhei Matsumoto, Isao Kimura (Yusa), Minoru Chiaki (Girlie Show director), Teruko Kishi, Ichirô Sugai (Yayoi Hotel owner), Gen. Shimizu (Police Inspector Nakajima).

a cop solves a murder in desperate, war-ravaged, U.S.-occupied Tokyo



This was the 9th film of the famous Japanese director.  It deals with a rookie police officer, Murakami (Toshira Mifune), who becomes the victim of a pick-pocket -- his Colt compact revolver is stolen.  The rookie is so desperate to get the colt back that he becomes obsessed with finding the gun.  (He becomes so obsessed that one wonders if the rookie considered ritual suicide to pay for his perceived failure.)  His obsession is worsens when he learns that his Colt revolver is now being used in the commission of robberies and murders.

Kurosawa wrote the screen play from a novel he wrote, partly as a way to expose some of the desperate social problems he saw in post-war Japan under the American occupation.  He observed what he considered social collapse and turmoil.

Through the character of the rookie police officer and his exploration for his stolen gun, Kurosawa shows us just how desperate were the conditions following the war.  We find out that the people have to use ration cards; the ones mentioned in the film were rice and beer.  As the police officer goes incognito through the crowds, we see people receiving haircuts in the street, eating places that are more-or-less dives, prostitution, and make-shift shelters used by the homeless.  And most of the houses, for those fortunate enough to have houses, are pretty shabby looking. 

Through the characters of the rookie police officer and his mentor, homicide police detective Sato, the film has a discussion of the post-war generation.  Detective Murakami remarks that many Japanese soldiers became beasts during the war and on too many occasions.  Murakami seems a bit depressed over the war and its aftermath.  To teach him to be more optimistic, Sato draws a contrast between his student and the young man suspected of doing the robberies/shootings.   Both young men were veterans of World War II.  Both were down and out. But while one man chose a life of crime, the other chose to become a police officer. 

In the film, it seems that Tokyo must be going through a heat wave.  It is hot, hot, hot.  Everyone is sweating profusely and most are using hand fans or electric fans to cool themselves.  These images occur so often that it makes one think that the heat is one of the characters in the movie.  Perhaps the heat is used to emphasize just how ugly things have become in postwar Japan.

The commentator on the film on the DVD compared Kurosawa to the Italian neo-realist film makers, taking his camera to the streets to expose the terrible conditions he sees all around him. 

The film is a good one, especially because it documents the poor living conditions in Japan at that time.  The detective story is o.k., but we early on learn who is doing the robberies/murders. It is more interesting to watch the society surrounding the cops and robbers:  the trip to a Japanese baseball game between the "Giants" and the "Hawks" with the words written in English; the trip to a cabaret with chorus girls dancing in over-sized two piece bathing suits; and the trip to the geisha joint. 

Highly recommended. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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