Kurosawa’s Steely Noir “Stray Dog” Unleashed a Bad-Ass Mifune on the World

Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune in Akira Kurosawa's STRAY DOG

Stray Dog review by Trylon volunteer Greg Hunter.

Stray Dog (1949), the next installment in our Kurosawa Sans Samurai series, is the rare detective story in which the lead must solve a problem almost entirely of his own making. The film follows Murakami (Toshirô Mifune), a well-intentioned rookie, as he navigates the seedier side of mid-century Tokyo in order to track down his stolen service weapon.

Kurosawa directed Stray Dog at a time when his contemporaries were depicting postwar Japan’s cultural shifts, portraits of transition and recovery such as Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring… which is also a pretty great movie, but Stray Dog is striking by comparison for its lively, popcorn-y qualities.* At the center of that movie is Mifune, contributing one of his earliest performances under Kurosawa, with whom he collaborated on many films, for many years.

Mifune embodies his characters so well in these movies that a first-time Kurosawa viewer might assume the actor spent his career playing variations on a type. He’s so persuasive as the solitary, righteous swordsman of Yojimbo (1961), or as the brash gangster of Drunken Angel (1948), that he could have made a life of rehashing either role.** Watching him as a Macbeth analogue—and the world’s shoutiest man—in Throne of Blood (1957), it’s hard to imagine him as anything but that screaming tyrant.

And yet in Stray Dog, he’s equally convincing as a dude who got his stuff swiped on a train car. Mifune contributed more to the Kurosawa filmography than anyone not named Akira Kurosawa, and this weekend, guests of the Trylon can watch him grow both in character and as a leading man.

* I guess a person could make a case that the Americanness of the film’s MacGuffin–the missing Colt pistol–is richly symbolic of something, e.g. the young Det. Murakami and the future of the police force being led astray by an export of the United States…  but this is probably not the kind of person with whom you want to see Stray Dog.

** Honestly: Yojimbo-era Mifune is a cool enough dude that, in my Toshiro Mifune fan fiction, Alain Delon, Marcello Mastroianni, and Marlon Brando are standing around having a mid-century cool dude contestmaybe Brando is taking apart an engine while Delon fixes some cocktailsand then Mifune enters and the other guys all shit their pants. Stray Dog—Friday through Sunday, everybody!

Greg Hunter (gregjhunter.tumblr.com) is a writer-editor from Minneapolis. His work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Comics Journal, The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, and elsewhere. He concept-tweets in obscurity as @Dialogue_Log.

Stray Dog screens Friday and Saturday, 7:00 & 9:15, Sunday at 5:00 & 7:15. Purchase tickets here.


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