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Stray Dog  [DVD]
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A film by Akira Kurosawa
A masterful mix of film noir and police thriller set on the sweltering mean streets of Occupied Tokyo
When rookie detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) has his pistol stolen from his pocket while on a bus, his frantic attempts to track down the thief lead him to an illegal weapons market in the Tokyo underworld. But the gun has already passed from the pickpocket to a young gangster, and Murakami's gun is identified as the weapon in the shooting of a woman.
Murakami, overwhelmed with remorse, turns for help to his older and more experienced senior, Sato (a superb performance by Takashi Shimura). The race is on to find the shooter before he can strike again...
Japan | 1949 | black & white | Japanese language with English subtitles | 117 minutes | Academy ratio 1.33:1 | Region 2 DVD
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The weather, is hot, and this is set up with panting dog from the very onset of the films titles. Stray Dog is a film about the difference in outlook between a calm, wise but jaded senior figure (Takashi Shimura) and his young impaitentent but more forgiving rookie (Toshiro Mifune). See this film, if for no other reason than the wonderful backdrop of post war japan.
Yet the film gradually exerts a grip as it becomes increasingly clear that Kurosawa’s intent is not just to deliver a thriller but also a movie dealing with the effect of crime on its victims and the dehumanising effect on both those who commit it and those charged with retribution, as rookie cop Mifune takes his first steps down the road that will inevitably lead to the death of sympathy and empathy. For all his western influences (not least a music score that constantly threatens to turn into Warren and Dubin’s 'Remember My Forgotten Man' from 'Golddiggers of 1933' without ever quite going that far), Kurosawa avoids a hardboiled approach: Mifune’s experienced partner Takashi Shimura is no hardass, although his easygoing amiability disguises a lack of compassion in what has become a repetitive job without urgency: while Mifune takes every crime committed with his stolen gun on his own shoulders, Shimura brushes aside his concerns by pointing out that if the killer hadn’t used his gun “he would have used a Browning instead.”
There’s a good sense of time and place, a post-war Tokyo when it was still a wooden city in the midst of a sweltering heatwave leading to a storm, and there’s a good occasional sense of detail, such as the great piece of detection at the end as Mifune eliminates the other suspects waiting at a train station. However, it does rely on a little too much contrivance at times: is it really credible that Mifune would forget not just to inform his colleagues of the killer’s location but set off without a gun? This isn’t Kurosawa at the peak of his powers by any means, but there’s definitely the sense of a filmmaker working his way up.
On the plus side, the BFI's DVD boasts a good transfer but compared to the wealth of extras on the R1 Criterion disc, a few pages of text biographies and a single poster image make for a poor extras package indeed.
Kurosawa dwells on the morals and issues at the heart of the story(no plot revealed here,sorry!), the post-war poverty of a defeated Japan and the age old viewpoints of the young and the old,of expereince and inexperience.
A heatwave dominates the whole film, people are bathed in sweat from noon to night,windows are flung open, this contributes to a tense feeling of claustrophobia,many of the characters seem at breaking point.
Reminiscent of Fritz Langs great detective films of the thirties,"Stray Dogs" is a mental and visual feast of Asian cinema.
Mifune is a police officer who loses his gun which were rare items for the police force to have in the days just after the second world war. So Mifune starts a desperate search for his weapon to avoid the possibility of being fired. This leads him the criminal underworld & the backstreets of Toyko.
Excellant performances from all & great direction by Kurosawa whose best work was yet to come.
A young Mifune plays a detective that has his gun stolen from him. The quest for its retrieval is long and painful for the young detective, made even more so by the news that gun has been used in several murder cases. The hunt increases, with the final minutes of the film reaching a climactic high that is unmatched by any other film made since. The hotel and train station scene fifteen minutes before the end is a piece of cinema heaven. It is pure, pure genius.
You will enjoy!!
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Kurosawa was a "Master film maker" who's films are now all classics.Read more
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