Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blind Spot Series 2014: Stray Dog

I think I'm down to the wire with this one (was it due yesterday or tomorrow?), but my Blind Spot entry is here, finally (you can catch the rest of them here).  I have had such an awfully busy month that it took me like three attempts to actually watch this, and of course each time I felt the need to start from the beginning so I think I saw the first thirty minutes of this three times this past week.

I'm talking about Stray Dog by Akira Kurosawa.

I'm a big fan or Kurosawa's work, so I was really excited about this one.  I only wish that this had lived up to my lofty expectations...

I find it rather telling that Akira Kurosawa didn’t really like this film.  He talked about how it was lacking in depth, and how despite the fact that it had the technique, it was possibly too technical and contained no real thought.  Now, I’ve found that a lot of times directors are almost too critical of their own work and tend to put themselves down when it needn’t be the case, but after watching ‘Stray Dog’ I can honestly side with Kurosawa on this one.  This is not a bad film by any means, but it is also not a very impressive one either.  From a technical angle, it’s beautiful.  The editing/pacing is swift and effective and the cinematography (especially towards the finale) is sensational, but when all was said and done, this was a film that had nothing much to say and is easily forgettable.

Kurosawa, working with frequent screen-partner Toshiro Mifune, tells the story of a police officer, Murakami, caught in an emotional, moral conundrum when his gun is stolen.  When this gun is then used to commit crimes and eventual murder, he becomes desperate the track down the culprit and right the wrongs, but things become tricky when the mouths of those in the know are clamped shut.  With a veteran detective at his side, Murakami ventures into the heart of the underworld in order to track down the man responsible for the crimes.

While the base plot and the film’s technical angle are very promising, I was astounded at the lack of real character and even plot development here.  I expected more from Kurosawa especially, considering how much I admire his work.

Sadly, despite a cloak of noir realism (the development of tone is remarkable here, from the crisp cinematography to the elegantly reflective score), the film feels oddly empty, and the climax, which totes the possibility of real depth, falls flat and almost anticlimactic (despite an obvious ‘climax’).  Instead of really drawing out the dilemma, emotionally, that Murakami was experiencing, ‘Stray Dog’ felt too preoccupied with spinning the detective tale, and while the plot development is essential, the connection to character is what drives something like this.  Noirs dwell in such a raw place that they need to rugged development of character to heighten their impact, and while the story told was truly engaging, I found Murakami to be a character I didn’t care about at all.

I had no investment in his eventuality, and so I was disengaged from the film.

Still, Kurosawa should be commended for the tonal achievement here.  The film flows so effortlessly, and the way that each scene is framed is rather remarkable, with the camera milking out the atmosphere with such fluidity.  You can feel the heat of the city, which is a feat in itself, for sure.  Takashi Shimura fits in this film really well, pulling off the anxiety of the situation with more human inflections than Mifune, who was a real disappointment here.  I normally love him and his work with Kurosawa, but he was stiff and lifeless here, even when he was trying desperately to emote something other than constipation.

I wanted to love this.  ‘Technically’ I do, but I expected so much more, and my lofty expectations (which, in Kurosawa’s case are deserved) were not met.


  1. This is one of my several films of Kurosawa I hope to see as I saw I think about more than a 1/3 of his body of work. I hope to complete them all in the coming years. He would be a fucking great Auteurs subject as I have him in my list of giants that will be conquered... soon....

    1. Oh, he would be a great subject for that series. I hope you can get to it soon.

  2. He is a great director and I love Mifune so it is interesting that this film seemed to fall flat. great critique!

  3. Glad you loved it 'technically' at least. This was probably my third Kurosawa (after Seven Samurai and Rashomon), and I loved everything about it. The style and the performances worked perfectly for me, though it's obviously not as thematically rich as something like Rashomon. Sorry you didn't like Mifune's performance. He wins a CinSpec for it! :(

    1. He wins!?!?! Over Cagney or Crawford? That is one of the hardest awards for me to decide, because BOTH of those men deliver masterclass performances.