Tuesday, October 15, 2019

CMBA 2019 FALL BLOGATHON, ANNIVERSARIES: Stray Dog, 1949


The Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA) celebrates its 10th anniversary with the Fall 2019 blogathon, a salute to film anniversaries. HERE is the link to the contributions.


Stray Dog was my introduction to Akira Kurosawa; an introduction that occurred far later than it should have or, perhaps in the grand scheme of things, when the timing was right. The groundbreaking Japanese film is 70 years old this year and is a perfect time capsule of an era and startling fresh filmmaking. Kurosawa and frequent collaborator Ryuzo Kikushima first wrote Stray Dog as a crime novel before turning it into a screenplay.

The contemporary (1949) crime drama could easily be subtitled The Coming of Age of a Cop. A stifling heatwave has the entire population on edge, no one more so than rookie Homicide detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune). The necessary urban scourge of public transportation put strangers in uncomfortably close quarters, both cops and crooks. The result of Murakami's transit journey finds his department-issued Colt revolver pinched. The former soldier presents himself to his superior in abject disgrace, expecting the worst for his transgression.

Toshiro Mifune

Murakami's employers have more understanding than the young man has for himself. He is quickly forgiven and offered guidance with the investigation. Experienced department heads and fellow workers in records and forensics give practical sympathy and point promising avenues to follow. Those avenues will include much pounding of the beat.

"apres guerre"
The French term for the post-war years used by Chief Detective Sato when discussing Murakami's situation.

The post-war Japan setting presents the opportunity to present two sides of the young returning veteran. Detective Murakami saw much beastly behavior and upon returning to Tokyo had his knapsack stolen. Bitterness filled his heart yet he turned his face toward justice and his current career. An introverted young man named Shinjiro Yusa (Isao Kimura) was traumatized by the war and by the theft of his belongings upon returning to Tokyo. He turned to crime. Eventually, he would come into possession of Murakami's pistol and use it in increasing violent robberies, culminating in murder.

Noriko Sengoku, Toshiro Mifune

One of the pickpocket gang was a "middle-aged lady" and the mug shots lead to Ogin (Noriko Sengoku). While the pickpocket and Officer Ichikawa (Reikichi Kawamura) reminisce about their old days, the young detective observes and learns. Anxious to discover more about his gun from the tight-lipped Ogin, Murakami follows her. Filmed on city street locations, it is a chase that is amusing for the detective's doggedness in the face of Ogin's increasing frustration. Eventually, the pickpocket joins the ranks of the protective superior officers at headquarters. She offers the tired young detective a cold beer and the benefit of good advice for the next phase of the investigation.

Murakami sets out to find those who deal in contraband firearms. He becomes a down-and-outer, roaming the back alleys with a desperate and haunted look, waiting for someone to reach out with an illicit offer. Once more, Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai film the seedier sections of Tokyo capturing the atmosphere, the faces, and even evoking the smells of the underworld. Murakami's headstrong anxiety about his stolen gun clouds his judgment and in arresting a contact, misses his man. A victim is wounded by the gun in a robbery and Murakami feels he must resign.

Lt. Nakajima (Gen Shimizu): "Bad luck either makes a man or destroys him. Are you gonna let it destroy you? Depending on how you take it, bad luck can be a big break."

Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Awaji

Murakami is placed on a team with Chief Detective Sato (Takeshi Shimura), a much-respected officer with many commendations. Sato's reputation has Murakami's built-in respect and the relationship between the two characters flourishes.

Once more Kurosawa takes his camera to a unique setting as a gun-runner named Honda (Reizaburo Yamamoto) is traced to Korakuen Stadium. Filming an actual baseball game must have been interesting for film and baseball fans of the day, nostalgic for a later generation, and interesting history for still later viewers. It makes for a tense and exciting incident in the film.

The investigation takes a deeply emotional turn as Sato turns to murder during a break-in. The grief of the victim's husband wounds Murakami deeply. Sato tries to help his young protege navigate the pitfalls of becoming too involved with crime victims or alternately hardening your heart against any emotion. The necessities of investigating citizens at such a vulnerable time must be dealt with as the team learns about Yusa's home life and background. They discover the soft spot in his heart for childhood friend Harumi Namika (Keiko Awaji). Harumi is a young chorus girl and this avenue brings varied and quirky show business characters into the officer's circle.

Murakami is asked to "tough it out" on a rainy night as the tumultuous mother/daughter relationship between Harumi and her single mother may lead to Yusa's whereabouts. Sato investigates a possible lead at a hotel. He has left his gun with Murakami and must face the frightened Yusa alone.

Toshiro Mifune, Isao Kimura

Detective Murakami thrives and matures during the incident of his stolen pistol. He uses his head when confronting Yusa, yet his heart still feels the pain.

Detective Murakami: "They say there is no such thing as a bad man. Only bad situations. Come to think of it, you have to feel sorry for Yusa."

Chief Detective Sato: "Oh, no. Thinking like that won't get you anywhere as a cop. It is easy to develop delusions, chasing criminals all day. We can't forget the many sheep a lone wolf leaves wounded."

Whatever the future holds for Detective Murakami, he will be a different cop from the one who lost his pistol on that crowded streetcar. His lessons and experiences will mold him. In some ways, he will be like his mentors, but in other ways, the war years will continue to shape his character.

The familiar mean streets of film-noir are waiting for you in Stray Dog with the added cinematic experience of stepping into another place and time through the artistry and technical skill of Akira Kurosawa.





Congratulations to founder Rick Armstrong and the Classic Movie Blog Association on the milestone of its 10th Anniversary.
















39 comments:

  1. I love this film so much. Your love for this is evident in this piece, Paddy. I feel this is a film that still packs quite a punch indeed when viewed in 2019. Toshiro and Takashi are both superb. I particularly love watching the wise mentor and hotheaded younger cop partnership develop as the film goes on. The scene with the husband of the murder victim is so powerful. Great film.

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    1. Thank you, Maddy. There are so many remarkable moments in this movie of humour, heart, and pain.

      I would love to see it on the big screen someday. My first viewing was about 15 years ago on a second-hand VHS tape. It hit me like a cannonball.

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  2. Sigh.. I admit my knowledge of non-American/British film is pretty shallow. But, I have been making strides in this area this year. So, based on your excellent post, I will ad this to the "must see" list. And because I love you, I will not make any reference to your favorite movie detective.....

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    1. I feel special being the one who put Stray Dog on your "must see" list.

      Also, funny you "shouldn't" mention my favourite movie detective. I've just realized he hasn't made an appearance on the blog in a while. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

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  3. I always know I'll learn from Caftan Woman. The topic and your discussion of it are fascinating.

    Aurora

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  4. Uh... I’ve never seen this one but it sounds pretty good.

    What I really wanna say is I’m glad CMBA is still around after all this time. I’m not exclusively a classic film blogger, but I’ve always felt a small kinship with those who are, and I’ve learned much from reading the CMBA blogs over the years.

    I see you got yet another CMBA award this year. Congrats. You must be one of their MVPs!

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    1. I think you would find Stray Dog of interest should it ever come your way.

      When I had been blogging a while I noticed a lot of those I enjoyed belonged to this thing called the CMBA. I had found my people.

      Thank you for the congrats. I have been grinning since Irving and I were acknowledged.

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  5. AKIRA KUROSAWA was married to YOKO YAGUCHI for almost 40 years until her passing in 1985. I also want to say congratulations on your CMBA award!

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    1. Thanks a lot!

      The Kurosawas must have put as much work into their union as goes into the masterful movies.

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  6. Your blog post has inspired me, too, to see Stray Dogs. Film noir and baseball are two more reasons to see it! Thanks for a wonderful post.
    Marianne

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    1. I can think of no better reasons that film noir and baseball! Enjoy.

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  7. Great introduction and review of this film Caftan Woman. I was lucky to have become a big Kurasawa fan in my 20s, mostly for his Samurai movies. but this one is a classic too. Great selection for the anniversary blogathon.

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    1. Thank you.

      My Kurosawa-loving sister tried to get me into his movies for ages, but for some reason I was stubborn until, thankfully, I wasn't!

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  8. CW, I'm a big fan of Kurosawa and Mifune...but I have not seen STRAY DOG. I'm now dedicated to correcting that! As I read your review, the plot and characters reminded me very much of the action-driven cop/gangster films made by Asian directors like John Woo and Ringo Lam in the 1980s. Those films inspired American filmmakers such as Tarantino. It's proof--once again--that Kurosawa was an innovative filmmaker well ahead of his time.

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    1. Indeed, Kurosawa is an inspiration for the ages.

      I have no doubt Stray Dog will make it unto your "keeper" list.

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  9. This is a great film and a terrific review. Thanks for participating!

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  10. Wonderful post. I learned a something! I saw this film quite a while but you have made me want to watch it again and step into a "different place and time" as you say.

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  11. On this day in 1902 IRENE RYAN was born. She is best known as DAISY MOSES better known as GRANNY on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. Earlier she worked with BOB HOPE on the radio. She was nominated for two EMMYS for playing GRANNY. The noms were in 1963 and 1964 so it was 55 years ago that Irene received her last nomination. Sadly her passing was in April 1973 at the age of 70. P.S. The critics hated the show but the viewers LOVED it and that is what matters. But even a lot of the critics liked Irene as Granny.

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    1. The "Hillbillies", especially the early episodes can still make me laugh.

      Irene truly deserved an Emmy. Her first nomination, the winner was Shirley Booth for Hazel, and the next year it was Mary Tyler Moore for The Dick Van Dyke Show.

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  12. By the description, I have the feeling I already watched this film, but not everything about it is clear in my mind. I remember it was like Japanese noir and, like everything Kurosawa did, pretty interesting. My firs Kurosawa was Yojimbo, but after I had already watched the western remake A Fistful of Dollars. Great review, as always.
    Kisses and thanks for the kind comments!

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    1. Thank you.

      Some movies are like that. I've been known to watch something "for the first time", and halfway through I suddenly remember everything. There's nothing as cool as Mifune as that disreputable, wandering ronin in Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Great stuff.

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  13. Today DAWN WELLS, best known as MARY ANN SUMMERS on GILLIGANS ISLAND, is 81. G. ISLAND came on in 1964-55 years ago. Just like THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES the critics didn't like this show either. You could say the show had the last laugh because it is the show that has aired in reruns more than any other show. I heard that on TV about 20 years ago. Also you may recall DAWN from her two eps of BONANZA. She did one before GILLIGAN and one after. Dawn really embraced the role of Mary Ann and is a gracious woman from what I have read.

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  14. P.S. DAWN WELLS was MISS NEVADA 1959 so that was 60 years ago.

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    1. I enjoyed seeing Dawn Wells on stage in Toronto back in 1984. She starred with Ken Howard in a mystery by Bernard Slade (Same Time, Next Year) called Fatal Attraction (nothing to do with the later movie).

      Dawn played the murderer and Ken the detective on the case. A fond theatre memory.

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  15. I've got to see this ASAP. Great premise AND direction by Kurosawa? Sign me up!

    Also: I like what the chief detective said, about it being easy to develop delusions. Sounds like an intriguing character study.

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    1. It truly is an intriguing character study, and when you add the atmosphere from the location shooting, you have a unique and memorable crime picture. I know you will be impressed.

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  16. This is one I haven't seen this one but what you've described sounds like my kind of movie. Great contribution to the blogathon, too.

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    1. Thanks.

      I would say that I am safe in "betting the farm" that Stray Dog would quickly move to your favourite list.

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  17. MIDGE WARE is 92 today. I remember her from her two episodes of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES as LOUISE SCRUGGS, the wife of EARL SCRUGGS. She was the brunette. JOI LANSING was the blonde who played GLADYS FLATT, the wife of LESTER FLATT. Even though MIDGE was only in two eps JOI was later in four more including three color ones. In 1961 Midge was on a western GUNSLINGER with TONY YOUNG. It only had 12 eps so it was never rerun. So I don't know that show. imdb also has that she did a movie with GROUCHO MARX-A GIRL IN EVERY PORT.

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    1. It is funny how those sitcoms live in our memory. I can picture Midge Ware and Joi Lansing guesting with Flatt and Scruggs. I think sometimes these smaller shows leave a greater impact then the heavy dramas. Wishing Midge good health and loving family.

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  18. JOHN CLARKE, best known as MICKEY HORTON on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, died on Oct. 16 at the age of 88. He was nominated for a DAYTIME EMMY AWARD in 1979-40 years ago. He retired in 2004-the same year he received a special LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD from the DAYTIME EMMYS. So that was 15 years ago.(Later after two other actors played the role the powers-that-be had MICKEY die.) John and his wife Patricia were married almost 55 years! They had three children including actress MELINDA CLARKE. John played Mickey Horton for 39 years!

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    1. John Clarke was a favourite of mine. I had not heard of his passing. Thanks for sharing.

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  19. I looked up DAYS OF OUR LIVES on WIKI and it has three actors that later played Mickey. It says RICHARD VOIGHT(temporary replacement, 2004), JOHN INGLE(2004-06) and KEVIN DOBSON(2008). Then Mickey died in 2010 and, of course, they showed pictures of the original Mickey-JOHN CLARKE. Did you see any of the other actors play Mickey?

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    1. I didn't see Richard Voight or Kevin Dobson in the role. Although, I did once see Kevin Dobson at a Toronto subway station. He was appearing in a production of 12 Angry Men at the time.

      I did see John Ingle as Mickey. It was at the time when Jed Allan (Don Craig on Days of Our Lives) had taken over John's role of Edward Quartermaine on General Hospital. Sometimes actors are traded like athletes on a team.

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  20. Great write up of a good Kurosawa movie! And one of my Favs. And timely too, now that Trudeau has been re-elected. Look for him to pay tribute to "the seven samurai" in his next Tokyo visit & wear a Kimono and Samurai sword.

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    1. I shouldn't be surprised one bit
      by the actions of that upper class twit.

      (My inner poet was inspired.)

      PS: Thanks for reading my piece on a fave and commenting.

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