Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stray Dog [1949]

Set in post WWII Japan - a rookie cop is pickpocketed and loses his gun. He begins a desperate search to find his weapon in fear of what damage it could cause in the wrong hands.

The film unfolds as if it’s meant to be a modern day fable of not allowing the weight of the world crush you – yet there’s a bit a disconnect when it comes to the universal “ah-ha” moment we are meant to feel at the end of a good fable. We are given the “wisdom” of a senior officer – and it basically boils down to “you’ll get over it, kid” – which even though may be true – isn’t as powerful as you’d like for a fable or a movie.

I’ve only really seen Toshiro Mifune in Kurosawa’s samurai films – and could barely recognize the man – but the intensity of his performance was ever present. As he investigates the emotional build up keeps showing itself through Mifune’s face and body language – the guilt he feels – as if this major dishonor to him speaks for the culture of post war Japan.

As he learns of the crimes his missing weapon has been involved in – he is encouraged not to put the weight of the world on his shoulders even though it’s hard not to feel guilt in a situation like this. He must learn in order to deal with his own humanity that it’s the choices that people make that define them – not the mistakes and curves life throws at them. He could have chosen to move on with his life and career – he was given a punishment – but instead he chose to move forward with the investigation and retrieve his weapon because of the character of his being.

Thus again – this would speak as maybe a message from Kurosawa to post war Japan – to not be in shame and use the defeat to lead down the road to bad things – but to learn from the mistakes and grow from out of those lessons.

Actually, as I write this I’m beginning to realize how the fable actually works very well as a message to the society as a whole - though I would’ve liked to see a major “ah-ha” moment – but I guess you can use that ambiguity to say “it’s your move, society”.

As for the film – you’ll find me pretty hard pressed to say that Kurosawa doesn’t know what he’s doing – because he’s as good as a director as have ever been. He keeps the story engaging throughout – uses the composition of his shots, lighting and single continuous shots wonderfully as always.

I had reservations about the story – but after having time to think – it’s quite good – though I realize I’m not always in the mood for ambiguity – I’d recommend it if it sounds interesting.

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