Stray Dog (1949)

A solid early work by Kurosawa in what is a clever cat-and-mouse chase that leads to an emotional climax.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #245

Dir. Akira Kurosawa
1949 | Japan | Crime/Drama | 117 mins | 1.37:1 | Japanese
PG (passed clean) for some violence

Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Awaji
Plot: When a pickpocket steals a rookie detective’s gun on a hot, crowded bus, the cop goes undercover in a desperate attempt to right the wrong. 

Source: Toho

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: DVD
First Published: 31 Dec 2007
Spoilers: No

Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog bears some resemblance to his later 1960s film, High and Low.  Both are urban thrillers with justice as the central theme, and both feature a worried and frustrated Toshiro Mifune in a pivotal role.  

Kurosawa and urban thrillers rarely occur in the same line; the Japanese filmmaking legend will always be remembered for his influential samurai flicks – Seven SamuraiYojimboThe Hidden Fortress, among many others.  

Stray Dog is a solid film throughout, a clever cat-and-mouse chase that leads to an emotional climax. Kurosawa’s direction is sublime; any lesser director would have made it into a boring affair.  There are no extra, needless scenes.  Every scene is there for a purpose. 

“They say there’s no such thing as a bad man. Only bad situations…”

The suspense is low-key though, certainly nowhere near what Kurosawa achieved for High and Low. But he compensates by driving the film along with a steady hand; there’s never a moment in Stray Dog that loses viewers’ interest.

Stray Dog is a unique picture.  It captures Japanese society in a state of degradation – decaying moral values, crime, materialism and selfishness.  

But through the actions of the main characters, Mifune and Takashi Shimura, we see men whom are selfless and are committed to making their society a safer and better place to live in.  While Mifune is superb (as always) in his role, Shimura shines most brightly.  His display is confident, yet powerful in a subdued kind of way. 

Kurosawa can do no wrong, can he?  With a linear-moving film like Stray Dog, plus a conventional plot, it could have been one of his career flops.  Film after film that I’ve seen, Kurosawa has yet to disappoint.  Stray Dog is an excellent motion picture that while not as popular as his samurai epics, showcases the Japanese master in top form. 

Grade: A-


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