Stray Dog

Stray Dog portrays the struggle to create a viable postwar social ethic and shows explicitly what is the personal cost of implementing such an ethic. . .[It] takes as its subject postwar Japan and becomes a kind of epic of national reconstruction. . .

Both Stray Dog and Drunken Angel clearly demonstrate the difficulties Kurosawa's aesthetic project in response to postwar Japan. The structure of each film is defined by contradictions between the imperatives of characters like Sanada and Murakami and the demands of the social context in which they are located. Their struggles against this context are ambivalent, for they are as much a part of Matsunaga and Yusa, their darker selves. Herein lies the power of the films: the characters and narratives are charged with ambivalent cultural values that are sustained without resolution.

--Stephen Prince, The Warrior's Camera, p. 89-99.

The name of the criminal is rather unusual. . .His full name is Yusa Shinjirô. "Shinjirô" [新二郎] literally means a "new, second son" or "new, second man." Yusa's first name, therefore, resonates with the film's important motifs: the first character draws our attention to the newness of postwar Japan and, by implication, to the question of historical continuity and discontinuity; the last two characters belong to a chain of signifiers that posit a relationship of double () between two() male(郎) characters, Yusa and Murakami. If we focus on the pronunciation, "Shinjirô" can also mean "believe," so that the first name becomes part of another important narrative motif, the question of ethical standards and individual choice. The last name, "Yusa" consists of two chinese characters, 遊 and 佐. The first character means "to play," "to wander," or "to float around," and the second signifies "to help." Thus, the name "Yusa" suggests two opposite possibilites of action: to float around without commiting onself to any constructive purpose (Yusa), or to help others realize a better future (Murakami). . .

In Stray Dog, Yusa appears as a return of the repressed, something many Japanese simply wanted to forget, and what the official discourse tried to erase. Yusa must be repressed for Japanese to be able to believe in the radical newness of postwar democratic Japan or to continue the incomplete project of imperial Japan as if nothing had happened in the last few decades. At the very end of the film, Sato urges Murakami to forget Yusa, but Murakami is still reluctant to follow Sato's advice wholeheartedly. It is by concluding the film with Murakami's hesitation that Kurosawa urges us to remember the past and use memory as a moment of intervening in the present social condition.

Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Kurosawa, pp. 147-78.


Review by Gary Morris from:

Much of Kurosawa's inspiration came from American and European artistic forms.
Stray Dog (1950) was influenced by the work of Georges Simenon, and in a curious
process, Kurosawa first wrote it as a novel and then adapted it into a film. As in the
work of Simenon, Stray Dog is based on a real-life incident, and a seemingly
insignificant one: a thief steals a rookie policeman's gun, and the policeman spends the
entire film trying to recover it. Kurosawa loads this small story with telling incident,
expanding it into a superb mix of noir and neo-realism.

Critics have often remarked on Kurosawa's films as quests, and much of Stray Dog is
taken up with the desperate attempts by Detective Murakami (Kurosawa stalwart
Toshiro Mifune) to retrieve his gun, which is being used to commit murder. Murakami
spends much of his time in literal frantic pursuit, chasing his quarry and accomplices
through the ragged streets of heat-drenched Occupied Tokyo. Like many a noir hero,
Murakami is a good man drawn into a criminal demimonde, here the squalid world of
postwar profiteering, corruption, and murder. And like these heroes, he has an
unsettling link to that world in the form of his gun, which makes it impossible for him
to return to normal life. Kurosawa uses his quest to explore a series of seedy tableaux,
from opium dens to western-style grindhouses, and the social casualties that populate
them. He even provides a classic doppleganger for Murakami in the form of the thief;
much is made of their similar backgrounds and very different, but inextricably joined,

Stray Dog was Kurosawa's tenth film and it showcases his ability to orchestrate a
complex story without losing the viewer. In one alarming sequence, the thief's girlfriend,
unhinged by Murakami's relentless pursuit of him, puts on a beautiful stolen dress and
begins to dance in a circle with increasing frenzy, obviously in the midst of a
breakdown. The eloquent unspoken question, a common one in neo-realism, is why
shouldn't an impoverished girl have a beautiful dress, by whatever means? In a just
world, the film seems to be saying, this would be possible. But the world of Stray Dog
is anything but just, and the viewer's experience of it parallels Murakami's awakening.
This Christlike figure stands in for Kurosawa when he says sadly, "There are no bad
people in the world, only bad environments."


Other Reviews:

An important scene about reconstructing the past and the impact of environment on creating criminals. The scene takes place at Detective Sato's house and below is a pretty accurate capturing of the subtitles. Note that a class handout will take a different approach to translation of the Japanese original:

While nostalgically remembering his own past, he urges Murakami to forget Yusa.  There is a transition shot of the child’s little toy horse, then the camera pulls back from the empty bottles of rationed beer.  Sato says how his house may not be much, but Yusa’s hovel was pretty awful.  Not fit for human habitation. 

Sato: Like they say, maggots prefer filth.

Murakami: They say there are no such thing as bad people, just bad situations/conditions.  Come to think of it, you have to feel sorry for Yusa.

Sato: Ikan, ikan.[No, that won't do!]  We as cops can’t afford to think like that.  Chasing people, it’s easy to think that way but we can’t forget the many sheep a lone wolf leaves wonded.  Half those citations were for capital cases.  There’s no help for a cop who doesn’t believe he is protecting the masses.  I say, leave the psychoanalysis to the detective novels.  I just hate them, that’s all.  The bad guys are bad.

Murakami: I can’t bring myself to think that way yet.  All those years in the war, so many men became beasts at the slightest provocation, over and over.

Sato: Right.  Must be our age difference.  Or maybe it’s the times.  What do they call that?  Apres..apures…

Murakami: You mean Après-guerre

Sato: Yeah, that’s right.  You’re part of that postwar generation.  Maybe Yusa is, too.  You identify with Yusa too much (wakari-sugiru).”

Murakami: Maybe you’re right.  My knapsack was stolen on my train ride home, too.  I was half out of my mind with rage.  I could have pulled off a robbery back then.  But I realized that I’d hit a dangerous crossroads.  I deliberately chose another way and got myself this job.

Sato: Hmm…I see…so there are two…what do you call that?  Après-guerre types: like you or like Yusa.  You, you’re the real thing, the real deal.  Yusa?  He’s après-nothing!  They laugh.  “I’m all après-ed out!” 

More laughter.  Then, some silence as they sit there. Finally, Murakami announces that he should be going.




See Michael Grost:

Stray Dog: A Japanese Film Noir

Stray Dog (1949) was inspired by the American film The Naked City (1948), according to interviews with Kurosawa. The Naked City is a police drama that used hidden camera photography to show real life images of crowds in New York City. It was part of a trend in American film during the 1945 - 1951 period, to make crime dramas that were based on true stories and were shot on location.

Stray Dog has similar vivid photography of Tokyo. The photography is packed with crowds, who are seething through many of the shots. Kurosawa's interviews state that the film is showing specific neighborhoods of Tokyo. Unfortunately, I know too little about that city to know where Kurosawa is shooting in each scene; and the film's narration never tries to make this clear, either. City has a detailed voice over narration that often identifies locations in New York City, while Stray Dog's narration ends a few minutes after the start of the film.

Stray Dog also shows elements similar to the other American police semi-documentaries of the period. The police hero disguises himself as a low life, and makes a mild attempt to go undercover on the streets of Tokyo, and make contact with criminal bands. This is similar to the more elaborate undercover operations in films like Anthony Mann's T-Men (1947) and William Keighley's The Street With No Name (1948). Kurosawa's film seems especially close to The Street With No Name; in both films, the hero dresses like a rough, tough bum, and enters a raffish but appealing world of arcades and eateries. Stray Dog also shows the operation of such technical police bureaus as the ballistics lab and the crime index room; such scenes of high tech police facilities are common in such American semi-documentaries as Street. We also see a pistol training range, just as in Street. City contains both a young handsome policeman (Don Taylor), and an older experienced cop who is mentoring him (Barry Fitzgerald). Stray Dog has a similar structure. However, in Kurosawa's film, it is the young policeman played by Toshiro Mifune, who steals the show, while in City, Fitzgerald's older cop is the focus of the action. Partly this is because Mifune is such a dynamic performer, but it is also because Stray Dog is designed to make the younger cop the central character.

Comparison with The Idiot
In Kurosawa's work, Stray Dog pairs with The Idiot (1951), as two films with a similar approach. Both works serve as a documentary about a particular region of Japan: Tokyo in Stray Dog, Hokkaido in The Idiot. In fact, it is hard to imagine a film more expressive of what 1949 Tokyo was like than Stray Dog. Both films have numerous train scenes. Both take place in a solstice, during extreme weather: The Idiot takes place in the dead of winter, during blizzards; Stray Dog during a midsummer heat wave. In both films we see weather through the windows of buildings: torrential rains in Stray Dog, snow in The Idiot. There are also scenes pointing upward, allowing us to see the stars. Kurosawa emphasizes the "Westernization" of both regions: people in Tokyo are beginning to adopt Western dress, with much American music on the soundtrack, not to mention dancing and baseball, while The Idiot stresses the similarities of Hokkaido to the West.

Both films are contemporary dramas, not historical films like so much of Kurosawa's work. Both films have suffering central characters, and Stray Dog by extension is also about the suffering of the Japanese people. Both have a humanistic, anti-war theme, as a subsidiary motif in the drama, recalling the war that was just over. Stray Dog has much casual but pointed commentary about the way the recently disbanded Japanese Army abused its recruits, with frequent references to beatings. This sort of blunt social criticism is a notable feature.

Mifune's characters in the two films have many similarities. In both films he is a dandy, dressed in glamorous modern clothes, and mainly clean shaven. He seems young, and often naive about society. In both films he is intensely emotional, playing characters that are very different from the macho, controlled Samurai figure he portrayed in The Hidden Fortress, for instance. Both films are full of scenes where he pleads with often perverse women to give him something: love in The Idiot, information in Stray Dog. Usually, he is not immediately successful, if at all. In both films his emotionalism eventually leads to a nervous breakdown, which is displayed on screen at full force.

Both films contain an intense close up of Mifune's eyes, which then dissolves into city scenes. This scene in a high point of both pictures. Both launch brilliant sequences of Mifune trailing another character through the streets.

For more see:


Stray Dog (Akira Kurosawa, 1949)

Rookie homicide detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) has had his pistol lifted out of
his pocket on the bus. He pursued a young man (future Godzilla director Ishiro Honda),
but he lost him. The older and wiser Inspector Sato (Takashi Shimura) takes him to
the room with the criminal files. "Get the box of male pickpockets on public
conveyances," Sato says. Murakami doesn't see the young man in the files. "Who was
standing next to you?" "A middle-aged woman." "Sometimes thieves will pass the
goods to someone else. Get the box of female pickpockets on public conveyances."
Murakami makes an ID.

I recounted that whole scene because it sums up the basic reason why I like Stray Dog:
it is an excellent police procedural. The police procedural pits (seeming) chaos
against bureaucratic order, small-time pistol thieves against an organization that has
all the female pickpockets on public conveyances on file in a box. I say seeming chaos
because one of the fun things about the police procedural is that while urban crime
seems to be just a collection of happenstance evils, it actually operates according to
laws that can be understood by gleaning enough information. One pickpocket is an
enigma; thousands are a law of nature.

Of course, there's much more to Stray Dog than the methodical investigation of a
pistol theft. There is the classic story of education, the young, Detective Murakami,
being taught by the old, Inspector Sato, a tale Kurosawa would return to in Seven
and Sanjuro. There is the race against time. (The buyer of the stolen pistol is
killing women in armed robberies and the cops have to find him before he kills again.)
There is the old story of men coming back from war. (Both Murakami and the armed
robber are recently demobilized soldiers and, before Murakami enters Sato's tutelage,
much of his actions are influenced by his wartime experience.) There is a
Dostoevskean descent into the lower depths of society. Finally, there is the classic
crime story paradox, the similarity between the cop and the robber. In short, a
masterful film from one of the greatest directors.