Restating some elements of Prince's discussion of Drunken Angel and
Stray Dog (pp. 89-100)
[Note: Rather than cite this page, please go directly to Prince's book. ]
Prince argues that Kurosawas main project is to address the theme of
modernity in Japans experience, and by extension, Japans long, complex
relationship with the west. He tells stories of strong protagonists grappling
with the social ills of a modernizing society and such issues as poverty, alienation,
political corruption and the bomb. Kurosawa heroes are seeking freedom and autonomy.
If development has a dark side, then Kurosawa explores it. Kurosawas
cinema is extraordinarily responsive to these ambiguities of development and
the contradictions between social recovery from the war and official policies
of rapid economic growth on the one hand, and the inequities of wealth, low-living
standards for some, and a system of big business that has not been responsive
to citizens grievances, on the other. Kurosawa draws on the Japanese tradition
of defiance of authority and rebellion. Therefore, he places special value on
the role of the individual and the self.. Without establishment of the self
as a positive value there could be no freedom and no democracy, he maintains.
Kurosawas heroes are often separated from the group and must struggle
Drunken Angel is about a double loss of identity Prince argues: one
loss is progressive, to cure Matsunaga of disease and release him from the old
codes. For this, a new sense of self must be forged, separating the individual
from the social customs and institution that subordinate him, make him an appendage
to the family, the clan, the state. But the price of this separation is isolation
and loneliness. Existing codes wont do but the new ones havent been
generated yet. But the second loss is a kind of schizophrenia resulting from
the Americanization of Japan. The world is out of kilter and control: cultural
and economic confusion persists. Kurosawa captures this with fragmentary and
destabilized compositionscameras perspective reels in drunken confusion.
The film cries out angrily, urging Japanese to have the courage to change.
Stray Dog addresses the need of society's guardians to renounce their
human feelings but also explores the dangers--and the impossibility--of them
doing so. So, Prince finds that the characters and narrative style are charged
with ambivalent cultural values that the themes and issues are sustained without
resolution. They search for but are denied closure: they are not able to resolve
the postwar political and moral dilemmas that they open up and explore. But
the films embrace various textual strategies to refuse closure, something Kurosawa
went on to develop fully in Ikiru.
Prince, then, finds the subject of Stray Dog to be postwar Japan itself
and its relationship to Japanese history. It becomes a kind of epic of national
reconstruction he contends. The action is set among bars, tenements, nightclubs,
flophouses, amusement parks, train stations, restaurants and hotels. Since crime
is its subject, social breakdown, chaos, competition are depicted.
It's a visually restless film with lots of rapidly cut montage sequences alternating
with single long-take shots. Prince calls this a rhythm of explosion and recoil.
The remarkable 8 minute and 35 secondsequence--most of it silent--when Murakami
is searching throughout the areas of Asakusa and Ueno, his highly visual using
wipes, dissolves, abd superimpositions to tell the story. The energy, the movement,
the dynamism--and alongside these the bewildered and lost souls that make up
the scenes through which Murakami travels--are all captured in this sequence.
The scene is all about the urgency of Murakami finding his stolen pistol and
it may also speak to the urgency of the task facing
Japan. As Prince notes: "The energy and impatience of the film's structure are grounded in the urgency of the tasks of social reconstruction." (91)
Yusa--and Murakami-- are both ex-soldiers who lost their possessions
(their knapsacks) when they returned from the war. They were without resources.
One went into policework, the other into street crime. But are they so different?
the film seems ambiguous about this point. Just because the times are bad, it
is no excuse for doing bad things. And yet, Murakami understands, perhaps, when
looking at Yusa that "there but for fortune goes I." The term "apres-guerre" comes up in some of the discussions between Sat and Murakami, and Sato has trouble pronouncing it because of its French origins. Yusa is in the "postwar condition," which, according to Prince represents "a national self crushed by the war and its aftermath." (94) Yusa is Murakmai's
dark side, his evil twin, his doppelganger, his double. He has violated boundaries
and threatened the sanctity of peaceful family life. Robberies and shootings
are now his game. But everything he does, everything that happens to him, is
rooted in the conditions of social and economic collapse. According to Prince, Murakami feels responsible for what Yusa is doing because "he helped create Yusa's need to steal." (93) That is, he got Yusa's ration card confiscated by arresting the girl so now Yusa is forced to steal in order to eat.
Sato, Murakami's mentor, thinks of the world in black and white. Evil is evil.
But Murakami has seen that the war can do bad things to people and Yusa's sister
tells us that the war changed him. After his knapsack was stolen, sometimes he would just sit in his small, pathetic dark room and hold his head and cry. The find his diary which recounts hi story of misery. It could be that the war and the political
collapse and social disorder that followed made a decent, perhaps even gentle
young man into a criminal and even a killer. This leads Prince to argue that "Stray Dog is a film about the danger of feeling and about the need to renounce compassion." (95)
According to Prince, then, we can read
the dialogue between Sato and Murakami as part of a discourse on an emergent
and coherent social program that takes as a central question the place and role
of a compassionate response in an oppressive world. Are the cops--the guardians
our our safety--supposed to suppress all their feelings of sympathy and understanding
for the criminal element? What will happen if this is what people do? Sato tells
Murakami he has to forget Yusa; he's not worth dwelling upon. But can Murakami
live that way? Is the film clear about where Murakami stands at the end? Or
is it ambiguous and ambivalent?
Prince sees that both Drunken Angel and Stray Dog are "defined by the contracfictions between 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 it as Matsunaga and Yusa, their darker selves. Herein lies the power of the films: the characters and narratives are charged with ambivalnet cultural values that are sustained without resolution." (99)