Cast & Crew
Murukami, a young homicide detective, has his pocket picked on a bus and loses his pistol. Frantic and ashamed, he dashes about trying to recover the weapon without success until taken under the wing of an older and wiser detective, Sato. Together they track the culprit.
Stray Dog on DVD
It's a police drama about a rookie cop (Toshiro Mifune) whose pistol is shoplifted on a crowded bus, and who spends the rest of the story trying to recover it. He is teamed with a seasoned detective (Takashi Shimura), and together they start following a trail of clues. But Mifune's obsession turns darker and darker as he realizes his gun is being used to carry out violent crimes, and his guilt and agitation become feverish. The story is a good one and even on paper sounds almost metaphorical in its simplicity, and indeed it is. Stray Dog is more than just a taut and compelling drama; in its evocatively photographed style, it functions just as compellingly as a depiction of post-WWII Japan. Mifune finds himself wandering through the red light district and black market areas searching for the thief, and everywhere there is a sense of loss and defeat - in the faces of the people, the places in which they exist, and the way they move. Furthermore, Mifune's character is himself a veteran of the war, and his emotional distress quickly takes on larger social significance than just the loss of his gun.
It's a fascinating glimpse into this moment of Japanese history, and it is no accident. There is one montage sequence of Mifune walking in the market areas that lasts nearly 10 minutes, and while it could easily have been trimmed way down for dramatic conciseness, it has a place in the film emotionally, becoming a mesmerizing piece of neorealist cinema. (In fact, the film feels very much like an Italian neorealist film of the era, and the story shares a few similarities with The Bicycle Thief.)
It's obvious that Kurosawa was brimming with confidence when he shot Stray Dog. His choices of composition depict the characters' emotional states over and over, and set pieces like the baseball game, the hotel/rainstorm sequence, and the climactic confrontation are stunning in their intensity, all created through creative editing and sound design.
Kurosawa orignally wrote Stray Dog as a novel because he wanted to emulate the suspense thrillers of French novelist Georges Simenon. Then he turned the novel into a screenplay and film. He was originally not happy with the finished result because it didn't feel like a Simenon story; of course, he had infused the movie with his own sensibilities. Years later he seemed to change his mind about the movie and reflected upon it with fondness. An excerpt from his autobiography which deals with this picture is included in Citerion's liner notes, as is an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty.
Criterion's DVD also features a 32-minute subtitled documentary about the making of Stray Dog which incorporates some interviews with Kurosawa, crew and cast members (though not Mifune). According to the liner notes, the transfer of Stray Dog comes from a digitally restored print. It doesn't look pristine, but overall it looks very good, and the soundtrack is mostly free of crackling or popping. The film also boasts audio commentary from Kurosawa historian Stephen Prince. Overall, it's a very good presentation of a great film, and well worth a look.
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by Jeremy Arnold