It has always amazed me that Akira Kurosawa managed to adapt to any kind of genre with such incredible ease, every time attracting the attention of the whole film world. As one might have expected, it’s also happened in the case of Stray Dog. Although the picture is greatly influenced by the western noir genre and it looks but that way, it clearly possess this mesmerizing Japanese touch, making it even more astounding and provoking than many classic American crime pictures. It’s a great detective story with a lot of sudden twists and turns in the thrilling plot. What’s fascinating about Stray Dog is the fact that it starts with such a seemingly trivial matter like a stolen gun, but proceeds to develop a mostly riveting intrigue filled with unnecessary murder and deep obsession.
The storyline closely follows Detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) who – along with Detective Sato (Takashi Shimura) – embarks on a dangerous journey in order to find his precious Colt. With every discovery the story becomes more complicated and sombre. One dead body leads to another. As the film gradually changes its tone and intensifies the pace, it also creates a mightily mystic and overwhelmingly suspenseful atmosphere. When the mood alternates, the murky cinematography begins to uncover a darker side of the picture. It’s fascinating how – through slow movement and ubiquitous sweat trickling down the characters’ bodies – Kurosawa pictured the tremendous heat that permeates every scene. What’s more, through the contradiction of two differing viewpoints – that of a young cop and that of an older one – the film alternates between two contrasting perceptions of the events and doesn’t clarify which one of them is valid.
This is yet another amazing collaboration between Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Every picture they filmed together turned out to be a huge hit, and Stray Dog only confirms the trend. Mifune plays an emotional and inexperienced detective who is at first more concerned about his beloved gun than about other people’s lives. On the opposite side there is Takashi Shimura, who gives a marvelous performance as Murakami’s likable and enormously calm acquaintance Sato, who tends to rely on his intuition and not on his feelings. And as the two characters bond, Sato tries to teach his companion the old-fashioned yet perfectly plausible rule – don’t sympathize with the suspects, as you might become too weak and unable to fulfill your duties as a policeman.
Through this thrilling tale of mystery and murder Kurosawa was also able to show his personal view on the tough situation in post-war Japan. It’s his auteur take on the struggling middle class, its members, and the crimes that those people have to commit in order to make ends meet. All the brutality, inhumanity and deception presented in this movie are caused mainly by the inequality in Japanese society. Apart from creating a visually stunning masterpiece and a truly compelling police procedural film, Kurosawa also skillfully persuaded the audience that behind most violent acts hides a purpose, even when it all seems like the work of a titular stray dog. Still, ironically so, those terrifying creatures have to suppress their urges as well, but with every subsequent act of violence their hunger and anger rise to the level of murder. And that’s definitely too hard for the protagonists too grasp.