Film: Stray Dog (Nora inu)

Cast includes: Toshiro Mifune (Rashomon, Shogun), Takashi Shimura (Rashomon)
Director: Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Ran)
Genre: Crime drama/Film noir (1949)

In brief: Under the opening credits, we’re watching a close up of a dog panting in the heat of a 1949 Tokyo summer day. It’s hot, it’s humid and it’s oppressive. It clouds one’s judgment. When Detective Murakami’s gun was stolen, he reports it to his superior officer right away. His Colt with 7 bullets was pick-pocketed while he was riding on a hot, smelly, crowded streetcar. As soon as he realized, he jumped off the streetcar and ran after the pickpocket but couldn’t catch up. He offers to resign, but instead he’s sent to work with Detective Sato of the pickpocket division.

Detective Sato is as laid back as Murakami is high-strung. Sato has been around. He’s seen it all. He personally knows most of the characters in Tokyo’s petty criminal crowd. But after Murakami studies all the mug shots on record, it’s obvious that the thief isn’t one of the usual suspects. But the woman on the streetcar… the one with the smelly perfume… he recognizes her. It’s a starting place. Solving the crime becomes all the more important when Murakami notices an article in the newspaper about a shooting. He wonders if it was his gun. Desperate to learn something, Murakami finds and pursues the woman from the streetcar until he wears her down. She feels sorry for the desperate young detective and finally gives him a clue. “There’s a place where you can buy a second-hand pistol.” This is how the clues come… one agonizingly slim lead after another. In the meantime, the police lab links bullets from two shootings to Murakami’s stolen Colt. Sato tries to tutor Murakami on the art of pursuing leads without scaring them off, but it’s a hard lesson for the earnest young detective… especially since there are still 5 bullets left in the gun. “A stray dog can become a mad dog.”

Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa are Japan’s most famous actor/director team, with 16 well-loved films. Their collaboration started the year before Stray Dog. While not as well known as some of their other films, Stray Dog has actually become more interesting as it has aged. It was shot entirely on location in post-war Tokyo. Anyone who’s ever been to Tokyo or seen photos of modern-day Tokyo will be fascinated to see this depiction of Tokyo, just 4 years after the war. The camera follows Murakami through all kinds of neighborhoods in his relentlessly quest. No place has air conditioning. Every character literally glistens with sweat throughout the entire film. Murakami’s exhaustion and desperation are palpable. It’s dark and sinister. And it shows us a side of Japan that’s not well documented.

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

In a real-life dystopia... filmed on location in Tokyo 1949... a young detective has his pocket picked and has to follow the clues to track down his stolen gun... excellent early Toshiro Mifune

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