Stray Dog (1949)

(Release Date: October 17, 1949 [Japan])
(Release Date: August 31, 1963 [United States])
(Release Date: October 16, 1987 [Finland])

Four Stars... Film NOIR NOIR NOIR!Four Stars... Film NOIR NOIR NOIR!Four Stars... Film NOIR NOIR NOIR!Four Stars... Film NOIR NOIR NOIR!

Akira Kurosawa's successful experiment in Film Noir! Excellent!

World's Greatest Stray Crow!!!
J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

Boy meets gun, boy loses gun, boy searches for gun, boy finds gun! Man, does it get any more traditional than that?

I guess so, yeah! In fact, I can't imagine such a story being made, honestly, outside of the Film Noir Genre of the 1940s (unless the film maker's initials are Q.T.). The fact that Kurosawa's Nora inu (AKA Stray Dog) was made in just barely post-WWII Japan adds an interesting twist to the concept in and of itself. Director and Co-writer Akira Kurosawa was certainly experimenting with the Noir-Cop Genre here. Was the experiment a success? Does the word "Eureka" mean anything to you, sparky?

Frequent Kurosawa collaborator (and the original "man with no name") Toshir˘ Mifune plays rookie detective Murakami. Looking much more like F. Scott Fitzgerald than Myamoto Musashi, Mifune is nearly unrecognizable as this dutiful, young policeman. When his sidearm is stolen during the hottest of the hot summer days, Murakami is honor-bound to retrieve his gun and save face before his superiors.

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I leave after advising Murakami on his search in a deleted Scene from Stray Dog!

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Through a series of deceptions and disguises (most notably as a retired and homeless World War II veteran), Murakami tracks his weapon through the underworld of inner-city Japan. The trail leads to a band of minor arms dealers about as shady and sinister as the KMFDM fan club.

When it appears that Murakami's Pistol might have been used in a late-night murder the trail gets even stranger for our young hero and his new partner and mentor Detective Sato (Takashi Shimura). What follows is every bit as surprising as the fact that Julia Butterfly Hill turned out to be so incredibly hot!

Stray Dog Opening... Is that a Ghost? On the whole this is a true example of the lost art of real film making. To modern audiences this might seem a little over-long and padded. In actuality, Stray Dog is the result of Kurosawa's (with co-writer Ryuzo Kikushima) well planned and paced script that gives you a little mystery at a time. Today's condensed CSI Vegas, Miami, New York, Timbuktu mysteries in which two baffling murder cases are solved in 42 minutes without commercials might serve to shorten the attention span of the current viewers to the point at which Stray Dog's Two Hours and Two Minutes seem to be too-too many. This would be unfortunate because the acting, directing and writing here are all superb and there are more surprises than a sleep-walk through a Jack-In-The-Box storage warehouse during an Earthquake.

This is not your typical Kurosawa film either (assuming their is such a thing). While many might expect the Shakespeare of Ran, the Surreal MindScape of Dreams, or the Samurai fare of Yojimbo, Stray Dog looks and feels much more like a traditional film noir set against a Backdrop of post-war, peak of summer Japan. The same script would feel as interesting if Paul Muni, James Cagney or Victor Mature took the lead.

There are, however, some welcome uniquely Japanese elements to this story. For example, the prime-mover here is Murakami's sense of Honor and Duty, never revenge or anger. Murakami is frantic in his motivation to expunge his record and conscience of shame. His and Soto's quest would be nearly moot without this subtext. An American counterpart would probably be only 45 minutes long because the Murakami equivalent would simply order a new gun and have his pay docked. The end. That's only one reason that it takes Mifune interpreting Kurosawa and Kikushima to make Stray Dog exceptional.

It should also be noted that Kurosawa remains true to form in his directing. By this time the great one had been directing for around eight years and was comfortable in his anti-Rut (if you will) of experimentation. Here we are greeted with Kurosawa's creation of the unseen character that shapes nearly every event: Heat! The Japanese Summer is an unrelenting foe and ally in every scene, and without this subtlety so much of this movie would have resulted in quite a different theme. The Zeitgeist surely shaped the writing and directing here, as World War II is written all over this print as if graffitied like a New York Subway. Between these two unseen movers Murakami's world is so tangible the viewer of 1949 or 2049 can reach in and touch it.

Four very enthusiastic Stars for Nora Inu (Stray Dog). If you're willing to put aside any preconceived or media sculpted concepts of mystery, Film Noir or Japan, this movie is for you! Like all of Akira Kurosawa's films Stray Dog shows us fine film making in its most pure of forms. Stray Dog conveys a great story without resorting to any filmic crutch or formula to hobble its originality! Is it as good as Throne of Blood or The Seven Samurai? No, or else I'd give this a perfect Five Stars! Compare Stray Dog to just about any other Noir Film in just about any language and I guarantee you, this is the film to beat!

If you find yourself in a Blanc et Noir world that's not exactly black and white,
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Nora inu by Akira Kurosawa (1949) reviewed by J.C. Mašek III who is solely responsible for his views and for the stolen gun he still carries!
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