STRAY DOG (野良犬) (NORA INU) (Akira Kurosawa, 1949)
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
Friday, April 1, $12, 7:00
Series continues first Friday of every month
Akira Kurosawa’s thrilling police procedural, Stray Dog, is one of the all-time-great film noirs. When newbie detective Murakami (Toshirō Mifune) gets his Colt lifted on a trolley, he fears he’ll be fired if he does not get it back. But as he searches for the weapon, he discovers that it is being used in a series of robberies and murders — for which he feels responsible. Teamed with seasoned veteran Sato (Takashi Shimura), Murakami risks his career — and his life — as he tries desperately to track down his gun before it is used again. Kurosawa makes audiences sweat, showing postwar Japan in the midst of a brutal heat wave, with Murakami, Sato, dancer Harumi Namiki (Keiko Awaji), and others constantly mopping their brows — the heat is so palpable, you can practically see it dripping off the screen. (You’ll find yourself feeling relieved when Sato hits a button on a desk fan, causing it to turn toward his face.) In his third of sixteen films made with Kurosawa, Mifune plays Murakami with a stalwart vulnerability, working beautifully with Shimura’s cool, calm cop who has seen it all and knows how to handle just about every situation. (Shimura was another Kurosawa favorite, appearing in twenty-one of his films.)
Mifune is often seen through horizontal or vertical gates, bars, curtains, shadows, window frames, and wire, as if he’s psychologically and physically caged in by his dilemma — and as time goes on, the similarities between him and the murderer grow until they’re almost one and the same person, dealing ever-so-slightly differently with the wake of the destruction wrought on Japan in WWII. Inspired by the novels of Georges Simenon and Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, Stray Dog is a dark, intense drama shot in creepy black and white by Asakazu Nakai and featuring a jazzy soundtrack by Fumio Hayasaka that unfortunately grows melodramatic in a few key moments — and oh, if only that final scene had been left on the cutting-room floor. It also includes an early look at Japanese professional baseball. Kurosawa would soon become the most famous Japanese auteur in the world, going on to make Rashomon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, The Bad Sleep Well, The Lower Depths, and I Live in Fear in the next decade alone. Stray Dog will be screening on April 1 in Japan Society’s “Monthly Classics” series, and it well deserves its place there. The series continues May 6 with Yasujirō Ozu’s I Was Born, But . . . and June 3 with Sion Sono’s Love Exposure.