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Stray Dog: Sexuality and the case of the murdered woman

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu raises an interesting point in the thread about the title of Stray Dog:

    Ugetsu: Something thats been bugging me since my second viewing of the film – was the murdered woman raped? The conversation between the detective and the family doctor, whereby in chastising the doctor for interfering with the evidence it is implied that he covered up her naked body, certainly seems to point to her having been sexually assaulted. But this doesn’t really fit in with the overall thrust of the movie (or our interpretation here) of the thief as a fairly regular guy who has been pushed over the edge due to extreme circumstances. Its one thing to shoot a woman in a panic during a botched robbery (as seems to have happened with his first victim) – quite another to rape her and shoot a woman in her own home. My feeling is that the conversation was written the way it was simply to give a bit of humanity to a woman we never meet or even see. But maybe the point is that the thief actually was a sociopath after all? In which case, all Murakami’s empathy is pointless.

    There might, indeed, be a case to be made about the possibility that the woman was not only killed but also sexually assaulted. A police drawing we are briefly shown (the camera pans over it after the scene at the house) seems to show that the woman died in bed. As we are not given the time of the day when the incident took place, we cannot say if she was in bed because she was sleeping, or whether she was forced there by Yusa. I would assume the former, but there are at least a few reasons to give the latter possibility some consideration.

    This would, after all, not be the only reference to sexuality in Stray Dog. The idea of Murakami’s castration when he loses his gun, a relatively typical phallic symbol, is probably something that everyone will think about sooner or later, but some have gone further down this trail of thought. Yoshimoto, whose chapter on Stray Dog is among the most interesting pieces of film criticism that I have ever read, discusses (among a range of other things) sexual symbols and fetishism in the movie (165-171). Although Yoshimoto’s conclusion is that Stray Dog is at the end of the day more about commodity fetishism than it is about sexual fetishism, he nevertheless makes some interesting further points about the film’s sexual imagery of the aforementioned type.

    These include the Japanese word dankon, which a detective uses at the beginning of the film when he asks Murakami if all bullets were lost — Minna dankon fumei ka? This is in the early scene where Murakami is returning from the shooting area, just before he boards the bus where he loses his gun. Dankon in this sentence stands for “bullet mark”, but Yoshimoto points out that the Japanese word for “penis” is also dankon, and argues that dankon fumei could also be translated as “penis lost”. The gun is, therefore, established very early on as a phallic object. Yoshimoto also makes a point about it being a female rather than a male thief that steals Murakami’s manhood.

    In a similar fashion later on in the movie, Murakami comes to a woman at the shooting gallery, thinking that she is a gun dealer. Yoshimoto points out that the confusion between the two in this scene is created by the fact that the woman, dealing in prostitutes rather than guns, uses the pejorative term tama, which can mean both “woman” and “bullet”.

    Yoshimoto also briefly discusses Murakami’s femininity, linking him strongly to Harumi. There is an especially interesting point that he makes (page 163) about a certain sign (“Muraki Clinic”) that combines both Murakami’s and Harumi’s names into one. I would also like to note that another example of a somewhat confused (or at least confusing) sexuality is that of Sei, the playboy hotel page.

    In addition to these, there also seems to be something quite peculiar about the women in Stray Dog, especially so the younger generation. While I am planning a more comprehensive look at the roles of the different women in the movie, I would argue that purely in terms of their body language, some of the postures that women in the movie assume are suggestively sexual. (I will have to work out a way to make screenshots — for some reason my player currently crashes when I try to do that.) I have also often wondered what that precise occasion was to which Ogin (the woman who stole Murakami’s gun) refers to as being the last time she noticed the stars.

    Now, if there is an overall presence of hinted sexuality in Stray Dog, this also seems to be the case with the scene at the homicide scene. One interesting aspect of that sequence are the myrtle shrubs, which the neighbours remark as bringing bad luck, and which the film makes a point of showing us a number of times (I would say either two or four times, as it is difficult to tell from a black and white movie). I doubt myrtle has any special traditional meaning for the Japanese, as it seems to be a native to the Mediterranean countries only. In Greek mythology, however, myrtle was strongly associated with Aphrodite.

    The scenes outside of the house are interesting also in that they show a rather large number of small children, and many of the shots are clearly focusing on them. Where did all these kids come from? And to add to the imagery of sexuality and fertility, the only descriptions of the couple that we get from the neighbours’ gossiping are that “she was so pretty” and that they were a “loving couple”. While these probably are quite typical comments that you would hear around a homicide scene, it is interesting that they should happen to be the only ones the film gives us.

    One final potential piece in the puzzle are the tomatoes that the woman had planted. The distressed husband, after tearing the plants from the ground, explains that the tomatoes were green when he left, but are now ripe. The function of this brief scene has always puzzled me somewhat, and I now wonder if the ripeness of the tomatoes could in some way be a reference to what happened to the woman.

    I would therefore say that Ugetsu may well be onto something in suggesting that more than just a murder may have taken place. If so, it would perhaps even more strongly link this second crime to the first one — we have, after all, been told that the victim of Yusa’s first robbery lost 40,000 yen that she had put aside for her dowry, a concept I was not familiar with, but which means a gift given by a bride to her husband. What Yusa seems to be doing without realising it is destroying relationships.

    Now, if the woman was sexually assaulted by Yusa, Ugetsu suggests that it should change Murakami’s the perception of him. In Ugetsu’s view, Murakami’s empathy would be “pointless”, as the criminal would turn out to be a “sociopath”, rather than someone acting because of the circumstances.

    I am not entirely sure if I agree with Ugetsu here. Where, after all, does one draw the line between immoral and antisocial behaviour and pure “sociopathy” (regardless of reasons for that behaviour)? In what way is killing someone when attempting to rob her a less serious crime than raping her under similar circumstances? If we can feel sympathy towards one, why not the other?

    I don’t personally think that, in terms of our perception of Yusa, it really matters whether he raped the woman or not. (This is not meant in any way to downplay the hideousness of a rape.) The basic argument still remains that what he has become — be it a thief or a rapist — he has become as a result of his surroundings.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Whoa Vili,

    Yoshimoto also briefly discusses Murakami’s femininity, linking him strongly to Harumi. There is an especially interesting point that he makes (page 163) about a certain sign (“Muraki Clinic”) that combines both Murakami’s and Harumi’s names into one.

    Hold it right there. I thought I mentioned this elsewhere? Yoshimoto, although I love the guy, and he answered my email, has made a common academician’s error, here.

    Muraki, the assistant art director, on a commentary extra tells us he made the sign just so that he could see his name in the film!-it has nothing to do with any hidden linguistic agenda or veiled sexual references, and I feel sorry that Yoshimoto made that mistake, and embarassed for him. It’s interesting that you pick it out, Vili, because I went from thinking on first reading, “Wow, Yoshimoto’s so smart, and look how much I miss by not speaking Japanese!” to being slightly embarassed for him once I saw Muraki’s interview. It was a good lesson to me to be careful about such things.

    There are doctors who look up at the Sistine Chapel and see a cerebral cortex in the form of God and his attendants. Yikes. I say what Leonardo da Vinci himself said; these illusions are very good for the creativity-you can see all manner of forms in clouds, in bloom on a damp wall, in the dregs of your Turkish coffee. It’s a good exercise for making stuff up.

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    Vili Maunula

    I wasn’t aware of the origins of the sign (I don’t have a version of the film with the commentary), thanks for pointing that out! (And sorry if I have missed it the first time around.)

    Yet, I don’t think that it invalidates Yoshimoto’s point at all. The sign may have been put there for completely different reasons, but its being there nevertheless has an influence on how we read the movie, and in Yoshimoto’s case the reading is this.

    As I have noted before, I am not in any special way interested in Kurosawa’s (or anyone else’s) intentions when making these movies — what seems at least equally interesting to me is what the reactions and interpretations are. While I don’t think that we necessarily need to pronounce the author entirely dead (├á la Barthes), I certainly want to retain the freedom to ignore him whenever I feel like. ­čśë

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ha! Freedom to ignore, funny, and a relief!

    I, myself, prescribe to a less-relativist version of the universe-one in which there are appropriate aesthetic responses. What a freakin’ intellectual Luddite, huh?

    I know that’s very old fashioned, but if someone says the Grand Canyon is “cute”-well, it makes me a bit nuts.

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    Ugetsu

    … and sometimes a cigar is indeed, just a cigar (as a gun is sometimes just a gun).

    Very interesting points, I was totally unaware that there were interpretations like this of Stray Dog. I’ve always thought of Kurosawas movies as quite sexless in that sense. Perhaps there was an underlying subtext of the post war Japanese male as having lost his primary role? I believe a major issue of that time was the sudden influx of women into the workforce and the consequent rise of the office lady, no doubt a terrible thing indeed for a certain type of Japanese male.

    Just to clarify what I meant in my point about the importance of the possible rape. To me, Kurosawa deliberately kept a very fine balance in the audiences sympathies, never letting us completely empathise with Murakami, so we always shared his conflicted feelings about the thief. From the description given, it seems like his shooting of the first girl was an accident. When we see the second victim, there is always the possibility that she died in a similar way. Hence the ambiguity is maintained. My problem with the hint of rape is that this destroys the ambiguity – rape is always a premeditated crime, it cannot be attributed to panic. On my first viewing, this flew over my head, it was on my second viewing I thought ‘oh hang on, was I really supposed to feel sorry for this guy?’ I can’t believe this was Kurosawa’s intention – hence I feel that this (along with other scenes) were just over-egged – the youngish director throwing in lots of elements for effect.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ugetsu do you think Stray Dog actually is really “steamy” ? The way the lady thief with the perm appraises Murakami and humphs about “handsome men” and the camera lingers on the bodies of the dancers all sprawled out, glistening. I don’t know of any other film in Kurosawa’s ouvre in which he allows the camera to so caress a woman’s body. (Although the “granny panties” in the dancing scene made a friend of mine laugh). There is a sexy vibe to this film…Mifune in his “just-back-from-the-war” gear, all tight and form-fitting, and the hot, steamy underworld. Even the interview with the girl eating the popsicle…it’s all so hot, huh?

    Ugetsu said;

    …rape is always a premeditated crime, it cannot be attributed to panic.

    You think?

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    Ugetsu

    rape is always a premeditated crime, it cannot be attributed to panic.

    You think?

    I’m not sure I want to go there! But I would restate my belief that someone who breaks into a house to rape and murder a woman there is a fundamentally different type of criminal than a panicky, armed burglar.

    I do think Stray Dog is steamy – and I’m glad Vili brought this up – the sexual subtexts to the movie flew right past me on my viewing (apart of course from the dancing girls scene, which is great, granny knickers and all). But I do think that Kurosawa was not a natural sensualist, in the way Mizoguchi was. I don’t think, for example, that Kurosawa could have done Ugetsu Monogatari in the way Mizoguchi was… those very subtle and erotic scenes with Michiko Kyo as the ghost… that sensual sense is very specific to Mizoguchi.

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    Jeremy

    I do not see the indications of a rape. A woman at home especially during summer would typically only wear a yukata, secured only by the bow on the obi. Traditionally nothing is worn under a yukata around home, other then perhaps whatever the panties where called. Certainly no bra was worn, and with the ease in which a obi can be undone in a struggle or panic. It would be only natural for a dead woman’s breast to be showing. The woman is mentioned to be “good” in which case modesty would be her utmost concern, even in death. The doctor on scene would only be fulfilling his obligation to ensure her good status is up held.

    I believe the mention of her being naked, is more to do, in showing the innocence of the victim- a woman of “good” status, thus highlighting the desperation of the crime, rather then pointing out anything of the sexual nature.

    Vili, makes a point in asking, how does killing a person during a robbery a lesser crime then raping.

    None of these deserve sympathy, however a large difference is conclude to the criminal mindset. This could be important in maintaining the understanding to Murakami’s partial sympathy.

    Robbing, then killing in fear and desperation, is a quick act of clouded emotions. Raping, on the other hand, points to a more relaxed period of time, the desire to consume the violence, rather then to be quickly done with it.

    While I disagree with Ugetsu, stating rape is always premeditated, it is however a contemplation of crime. Yusa, comes off as working in panic in every scene, and not of the calculation required for rape.

    Vili mentions

    One final potential piece in the puzzle are the tomatoes that the woman had planted. The distressed husband, after tearing the plants from the ground, explains that the tomatoes were green when he left, but are now ripe. The function of this brief scene has always puzzled me somewhat, and I now wonder if the ripeness of the tomatoes could in some way be a reference to what happened to the woman.

    I find this more to do, that although the woman’s life has come to a end, and more or less the husband’s too. Life still continues with no concern of the past. The tomatoes went on, surviving, peaking to completion, while the husband’s wife was not able to. The tearing out of the tomatoes is the husband’s revenge on the world. This being a theme that is played throughout the movie, in which the world has done wrong to a person, and thus the person aims to do wrong to the world.

    This very much a push to sympathize for Yusa, using the setting of the crime scene as a means of reflection into this.

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    Vili Maunula

    (I’m sorry about the silence, but I’ve been extremely busy of late, and it now seems that I continue to be busy for another week or so.)

    I do agree that the possibility of rape, even if present, is most probably not something that was intended by Kurosawa. Ugetsu’s view of it and much of the overall sexual imagery being the result of a “youngish director throwing in lots of elements for effect” may well be correct. At the same time, these elements might also well be the result of the film being adapted from Kurosawa’s novel, as novels tend to have more details to them, partly because of the way many of them build their own metaphorical or symbolic frameworks through language. Having never read Kurosawa’s unpublished novel, this is of course nothing but a guess in this particular case.

    I think that Ugetsu and Jeremy are also right in that had rape taken place, it would have changed the nature of the crime and our view of Yusa’s character. I’m still not sure if it should have affected Murakami’s feeling of sympathy towards him, however — I guess the question is whether we feel that, however strong an effect your surroundings can have on you, you should still be able to control yourself and maintain a certain level of morality and compassion towards others, where stealing is ultimately more acceptable than rape.

    I’m not sure if I agree with this view, but then again I tend to gear more towards the notion of us not really being in control of our actions to begin with.

    The tomatoes could indeed be more about the progress of time than references of sexuality and fertility. I may be reading more into them than I should, but somehow I just have never been entirely satisfied with the idea of them marking time.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili said:

    The tomatoes could indeed be more about the progress of time than references of sexuality and fertility. I may be reading more into them than I should, but somehow I just have never been entirely satisfied with the idea of them marking time.

    I always thought the husband pulling the tomatoes up by the roots was somehow a very poignant, visual equivalent of his wife’s murder. It is such violence, and pulled up by the roots in the fullness of life-in a moment of ripeness-it is such a terrible waste!

    It makes the wife’s death come home, as does the interview with the doctor talking about how modest a woman the deceased had been.

    There was some discussion earlier about rape being premeditated. But, where does the thought come in? Is it possible, that Yusa, seeing the woman, alone, gets the idea on the spot? I am only asking, I do not have any theory.

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    Vili Maunula

    Coco: There was some discussion earlier about rape being premeditated. But, where does the thought come in? Is it possible, that Yusa, seeing the woman, alone, gets the idea on the spot? I am only asking, I do not have any theory.

    I would think it possible that a rape can “just happen”, just like you can kill someone by half-accident. Although the latter is certainly more plausible than the former, and I guess that in terms of cinema, if you wanted to make the audience to believe that a rape was an accident, you would actually need to show how that came to be.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili, I have been reading a few books about Hurricane Katrina: Tom Piazza’s “City of Refuge” And his “Why New Orleans Matters” as well as Chris Rose’s “One Dead in Attic” and J. Reed’s “The House on First Street“.

    In the post-Katrina nightmare of broken levees, flooding, evacuation, and folks taking “refuge” in the hell-like Convention Center, it seems as if rape did indeed occur because it could…because men found themselves alone with young girls in the dark labyrinth-like halls.

    I am beginning to believe that rape can be a crime of opportunity. I don’t know if it is bad or good cinema to suggest rape and yet not make it clear whether or not rape occurred.

    …and I guess that in terms of cinema, if you wanted to make the audience to believe that a rape was an accident, you would actually need to show how that came to be.

    I guess “implicit” in art is allright by me. I have a lot more trouble with it in my bureaucratic struggles at work than in my art… I think.

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    Vili Maunula

    I totally agree that implicitness in art is not only permitted but should in fact often be encouraged. However, as with so many other things in narrative arts, there appear to be certain unwritten rules about the use of implicitness that have to do with the implied event’s perceived probability.

    For example, simply telling us that a man shot a woman by accident when trying to rob her seems like a fairly possible course of events, and therefore we don’t have trouble accepting the idea even if we are not shown what actually happened.

    However, had Kurosawa had his detectives come up with the conclusion that space monkeys landed on the backyard, kidnapped the woman and replaced her with a synthetic robot whose task is to take over the world, I think that we would be fairly sceptical and call this turn of events poor script writing. Unless, of course, we were actually shown that this indeed happened, and given the reasons why, at which point it would make more sense and be more acceptable. (Although perhaps still not quite as acceptable as the shooting.)

    I am not entirely sure why this should be so, but my guess is that it has to do with the fact that we are more accustomed to hearing about people accidentally killing other people when robbing them, and less accustomed to hearing about space monkeys kidnapping people with world domination in mind. The former does nothing much to shake our suspension of disbelief (or whatever you wish to call it), while the latter pretty much hacks it to pieces.

    Now, the idea of a non-premeditated rape probably falls somewhere between the earlier two examples on the scale of perceived probability. While it is probably closer to the accidental murder, I would argue that it is still perceived to be an uncommon enough event by the average viewer to need some sort of visual emphasis before he or she can accept the proposed events.

    While I don’t actually personally think that a non-premeditated rape is all that much less probable an event than accidentally shooting someone to death, it seems to me that at least in the socio-cultural environment in which I move about, this would most probably generally be considered to be the case. Why this should be so is an interesting question, and while I have no definite answer, I would venture to guess that it has something to do with the notion of how much and in what way we believe human beings to be in control of our own actions.

    Ultimately, it seems curious to me that we would perhaps more readily accept that violence is something that we may (and are to some extent even allowed to) lose control over, whereas sexuality is seen as something that we are totally responsible for and the urges of which we should, in most instances, suppress. I don’t think that it is difficult to see where this all comes from and how it affects the world around us, but I think that it is nonetheless quite a curious little thing.

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    Ugetsu

    On reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that Kurosawa had a different motive in introducing the doctor to that scene, and giving more colour to the (unseen) victim.

    In the film, there are two very important characters that we never see – the two women shot by the gunman. But we have a very clear idea in our head what they are like. Kurosawa goes to pains to tell us what the first woman is like through Shimuras words – we can picture her as a shy, not so pretty office girl, hardworking and dedicated, saving up diligently for her dowry, the one way she has of getting herself a better life. The second woman is not quite so vivid, but a Japanese audience would have a firm idea of what she was like – a ‘good’ japanese lady, from a respected family, living a comfortable conventional life in a loving (although apparently childless) marriage.

    Contrast this to so many contemporary thrillers where directors where we are usually shown little vignettes that are supposed to humanise the victims of a crime, before they are blown away by the bad guy (usually in pornographic detail) while the plot moves on.

    I think Kurosawa was purposely trying to remind us that crime stories are not about the yin and yang duopoly of the cop and criminal. There are three sides – the police, the criminal, and the victim. By deliberately not showing the direct victims of the stray dog, but giving us visual portraits of them through the words of neutral witnesses (Shimura and the doctor), he was pointedly reminding us of their humanity in a more powerful way than the normal convention of the crime thriller.

    In some ways, perhaps the histrionics of the husband was in fact mildly satirical. We are invited to contrast the cool, sad words of the family doctor with the (possibly) ritualistic breast beating of the husband. Personally, I found the doctors words to be a more convincing and moving description of the loss of a good woman than the husbands self pity.

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    Jeremy

    Does not, Yusa rob this lady for his love of the young girl, and wouldn’t Yusa raping the woman he rob, undermine the desperation of the times, in which we are supposed to allow some understandings to the people negatively effected by them?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Really, Vili and Jeremy both probably are right-there probably was no rape. And, I have to say, the emotional considerations that Jeremy mentions-the humanizing of the victim through the sympathetic, neutral witnesses- carries a lot of weight with me. I feel as if Jeremy has blown some cobwebs out of my brain by making me go back to the “thingness of the thing”-the actual film itself. I remember feeling so bad for the woman saving all her money to get married…how sad that felt-hearing Shimura tell it. I also understand Jeremy’s feeling the husband pulling up tomato plants may be exhibiting “ritualistic breast-beating”. In crime films, we suspect everyone’s motives. It makes me want to look away-at the same time-the sense of waste is underscored, and it works for me.

    But then, my brain is filled with space monkeys.

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    Vili Maunula

    I think that everyone needs to have at least a space monkey or two between their ears.

    Ugetsu raises some very good points about the film telling us rather than showing us the two robberies, and how it makes the victims more human. I wonder, purely in terms of narrative technique, might it be that by telling us rather than showing us, the film forces us to briefly reconstruct those scenes ourselves, and therefore making us an active participant in staging those events, and in turn actually bringing us closer to the victims than we would had we only needed to passively observe the crimes?

    As for the husband, he reminds me of a little boy whose lollipop has been stolen. The way he sits before the outburst, and the childishness of the outburst itself could, I think, easily be that of an 8-year-old. I guess it makes us feel ashamed for him for the fact that he has so totally lost his control. Which, in turn, contributes to our feeling sorry for him.

    We allow his childish outburst because we feel that it is a valid response to the situation which he finds himself in. A little bit like we are asked to consider whether Yusa’s actions are something that are a valid response to what he has undergone.

    Jeremy, I think that what you are suggesting with your question is quite true. The conventional Western view would seem to be that while money/sustenance is a necessity, sex is not. Therefore, violently taking money from someone when you really need it is almost permitted, while violently quenching your sexual desires is a big no no.

    Obviously, there is also the difference that taking money from someone does not actually necessitate physically violating anyone, while a sexual crime by definition does that. But if, in both cases, the outcome is a dead woman, does the difference in fact matter so much in the end? And if it doesn’t, then why should it undermine our or Murakami’s feelings of sympathy and understanding towards Yusa?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ugetsu, I meant to credit your insights into character motivation, and apologize for not doing so in the earlier post.

    Vili, I think you’ve touched on the husband’s character vignette and thrown it into high relief-we are uncomfortable seeing the husband lose control, but we understand his grief and pain, and forgive him his histrionics. I also go through a moment of doubt-“Is there something strange in his acting out with the tomato plants? What is going on, here? Why wasn’t he home? Why does he show up just now?”-that whisper of “trust no one” you have when seeing a “cops n robbers” flick. It dissipates quickly.)

    I think the quiet street the house was on-the neighborhood scene was remarkable for setting. I don’t really know when-maybe Sanshiro Sugata stands out as another example-of seeing the life of the street around a neighborhood (I am thinking of the first scenes in Sanshiro, almost Ozu-like-reminds me of “Ohayo”-) and feeling sunlight on plants, feeling sunlight in the street.

    For some reason, I have a very strong sense of the murdered woman when the doctor speaks-her physical presence is quite close, just out of view, thankfully!

    And, why does Yusa kill women? How scary can women be? What is the reason for it? There is something sexual-maybe not rape, ok, but it is a gun being used against women. It’s rather pathetic of Yusa, no?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Right, so “sexuality and the case of the murdered woman” comes full-circle, symbolically. Perhaps the use of a gun in the murder of a woman alone may be the sexual content issue-the reason Ugetsu and some of us question “was it rape?”

    Vili did the post-mortem on gun symbolism in the first post under this topic, and that’s where I end up, again. Here’s the thing, though-you don’t know the flavour of green tea over rice until you taste it. You can talk about it, but you must experience it to know it. So, this chat’s been quite useful in that respect-in fleshing out (so to speak!) the flesh of the symbols.

    I really do think that Stray Dog is one of Kurosawa’s “sexiest” films-that is, sex is everywhere in the film…hinted at in a variety of subtle, veiled as well as obvious ways.

    Maybe sex is the Stray Dog’s downfall! About the sexiness of the film:

    Mifune, first of all, is ravishing. He’s the most dashing young copper I’ve ever seen (“arrest me, mister Mifune!”) and the general reserve (he only gets one moment for histrionics when Shimura is in hospital) is particularly appealing.

    The whole “lost-my-gun” thing actually hilarious if you follow the gun-as-symbol line of thought, ‘cuz look at the trouble the gun causes! Holy cow! Mifune/Murakami dodges a bullet by losing his gun! Ha! It’s as if the sexy, steamy underworld is some kind of sexual trap!

    Vili notes the rather lascivious body language of the younger women-the amusement park shooting gallery girl and the young girlfriend of the gun “fence” exhibit a suggestive body language. And, when we see the object of Yusa’s affection-she’s not quite so lascivious, but she is walking down that road-so far it’s affected her lips and eyes-a sullen expression somewhere between a crabby teenager (which the wonderful actress admits to being in real life on the extra dvd interview) and a “fallen” girl. She only decides not to go all the way down that road when she decides to help Mifune/Murakami.

    I was a bit taken back, initially, in the scene where Takashi Shimura enjoys a popsicle and, after, offers a smoke to the young girlfriend of the gun dealer. I wasn’t even sure Shimura really was a good guy in the first moments of the scene. He seemed so comfortable with the “bad girl”-and those sad-carp lips sucking on a popsicle are too sensual. It freaks me out to see this sensual side to Shimura. I always think of him as older, wiser, more mature-and defininetly not a sex object. It is as if sensuality/sexuality is a common language spoken by the corrupted youth of post-war Japan, and that Shimura, being so comfortable with that language, appears in his first moments as possibly being a little too close to the underworld. In fact, I would suggest that the scene of him standing and watching his children sleep-deriving pleasure from that-is necessary so that we know for sure he is a good guy. Even that bit about his role in support of a militaristic government leading up to the war is only a side note in this context-he loves his kids, he wants to provide for them, and for them to live in a safe world. And, in this context, his sexuality has found a socially “correct” outlet-his wife-and the result is this lovely pumpkin patch of sleeping beauty. So, we are reassured.

    Yusa, on the other hand, has an underage girlfriend-she’s too young to even really understand that she is an agent in the world whose actions have repercussions. When she does understand, she has to choose to be “good” (non-sexual) or bad, and chooses good. Okay, the space monkeys are calling me.

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    Ugetsu

    think the quiet street the house was on-the neighborhood scene was remarkable for setting. I don’t really know when-maybe Sanshiro Sugata stands out as another example-of seeing the life of the street around a neighborhood (I am thinking of the first scenes in Sanshiro, almost Ozu-like-reminds me of “Ohayo”-)

    Funnily enough, what that scene reminded me of was the opening sequence of one of my absolute favourite movies of the period, Naruse’s ‘Sounds of the Mountain’.

    I suspect the reason Kurosawa lavished so much attention on the house in this scene was that it is part of painting a picture of the victim without showing her. She lived in a lovely, upper middle class suburb – a family able to afford to keep a distance from the dirt and unpleasantess of the main city.

    I wonder, purely in terms of narrative technique, might it be that by telling us rather than showing us, the film forces us to briefly reconstruct those scenes ourselves, and therefore making us an active participant in staging those events, and in turn actually bringing us closer to the victims than we would had we only needed to passively observe the crimes?

    I can’t recall the exact saying, but its one of those cliches media people trot out that ‘if you want to paint a picture, put it on the radio’. I know there has been quite a bit of research that indicates that psychologically people focus more on a verbal description when they cannot see the object of the description – hence people who listen to a political debate on the radio often come to very different conclusions to those who’ve seen an identical one on TV. I’m not sure if 1940’s film makers were aware of this as a psychological phenomena, but on reflection I do think that Kurosawa was deliberately using this as a technique to make the two women more vivid to the audience (yet another bit of evidence for his genius). It certainly worked for me. I find I think of the first victim much more than the female characters actually shown in the movie.

    To go back to the original point of Vili’s post – a few random thoughts:

    We have been discussing the issue of sexual symbolism in the film and the constant focus on the loss of the gun (phallic symbol). In a book I read recently called Japan Rising by the political scientist Kenneth Pyle, he outlined one of his theories that Japanese people identify with ‘Japan’ in a very different way from most peoples – he believes that one reason that western (specifically American) policy makers repeatedly erred in the 1920’s and 1930’s when dealing with Japan was a failure to see that the Japanese did not make the same distinction between criticising an individual, a group, or Japan itself, as an American would (hence the Japanese saw insults to Japan as personal insults, and personal insults as national ones). Now without going into the rights and wrongs of this theory (which I am pretty dubious about), perhaps a legitimate reading of the gun in Stray Dog is as a metaphor not just of the loss of male power for Murakami, but the general emasculation and humiliation of Japan represented by the loss of WWII and the subsequent adoption of the Yoshido Doctrine (the non-militarist, purely economic policy adopted after the end of the Occupation). In this reading, the search for the gun becomes a metaphor for the conflict between male militarism (the gun falling into the hands of a stray dog), and legitimate violence (it is reclaimed by the police).

    On the subject of rape – I would guess that for a percentage of the audience for this movie, rape was more than a theory. We know there was mass rape carried out by the Emperors soldiers in China and Korea, the same generation that was going to this movie. I saw on a dvd extra for Ichikawa’s film Fire on the Plain’ one of his actors rather casually describing the atrocities he personally carried out in the war (bayoneting prisoners). The suggestion of an ex soldier raping a japanese woman may have had intimations of the war being brought home in a very different sort of way.

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    Jeremy

    ^You bring a good point and something I never considered.

    It should also be noted (although debated) the majority of rape victims during Japan’s invasion of Asia, would of been Japanese women brought over. If for say Yusa was part of the Japanese invading force, rape could of been a rather natural progression in his crime, as it was basically promoted and even suggested to soldiers of that period. Such thinking could of carried over. Although I with still argue, Yusa’s action committed for love, would erase ideals of rape, but not to say one can’t commit rape, while being in love.

    Vili Maunula wrote 17 hours ago:

    Obviously, there is also the difference that taking money from someone does not actually necessitate physically violating anyone, while a sexual crime by definition does that. But if, in both cases, the outcome is a dead woman, does the difference in fact matter so much in the end? And if it doesn’t, then why should it undermine our or Murakami’s feelings of sympathy and understanding towards Yusa?

    Speaking for post war though current times, I think it safe to say in America at least, the difference is huge.

    Being even true today to some extent, violence in American eyes has always been a lesser crime then anything sex related, even sex in a non-criminal sense. While our movies and video games can have violence, the smallest notion of sex, gets people upset. The game “Mass Effect” is a great example, the media had no problems with kids killing people, but once they found out about a possible (no nudity) sex scene, people/media went crazy.

    I know other countries it rather the opposite in thinking, so are you saying the with the same end result of murder, the process up to it, makes little difference?

    If I haven’t mention this early: to put very generally, and with a bit of hesitation, I would find rape to be a far worse crime then murder(American judicial system tends to reflect the same in varying degrees)

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    cocoskyavitch

    Jeremy, one of the stories in the Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0192803727/ref=sib_dp_pt#reader-link is an unbelievably painful account of a soldier who has to kill a Chinese woman. (The Rifle). It is clear that some Japanese suffered a terrible remorse for the invasion of Manchuria.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Sino-Japanese_War

    Having been at the site of the Nanjing Massacre with Chinese students crying over the skeletal remains visible in the dirt-and having walked in the bronze footprints of survivors along the memorial path, and having read their stories-I know that atrocities did occur, that many suffered. When we evaluate Yusa, the unknown elements tantalize us-as if they may have an answer to “why” Yusa chose the path he did. It is a false hope, I think. The human heart has some darkness that I never saw or believed in before. This darkness makes us less knowable than I once thought. Something inside evades all logic, sense or reason.

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    Jeremy

    Certainly many Japanese soldiers would go on to suffer terrible remorse. In Yusa’s case, I was trying to get across, that for some, and maybe him, such acts might fall in the realm of normalized behavior. I think if one stays within the mentality of war or creates something to re-spawn it; the acts of robbing a woman would also include the rape and murder- as breed in this case, by war practices.

    While there is really nothing to point out mental issues with Yusa, we also never get to see him under pressure, or in criminal acts. Certainly it is possible to be normal in one environment, and extermely violent in another.

    It is easy to forget the people, of the more extreme acts of violence like the German SA and SS, and Japanese Imperial Army and Imperial Navy, did raise a normal family (most who never had an idea or could be convinced their father/husband was capable of such) and live normal lives outside the war enviroment. There are no looks of evil, or characteristics that define it-perhaps other then being human.

    I would be hard to convince that humans are not distinctly evil, nor incapable of extreme violence. Giving enough time and pressure, anyone is capable of anything. Add in a war enviroment of a literal kill of be killed, with crimes going unpunished and sometimes reward, you’ll see the breeding of hate, were once there was none. The real human starts to come out, and for many there is no going back.

    While some like Murakami might be able to shake this off, and even grow to regret it, many can not or choose to do not. This may be impart of Murakami’s understanding of Yusa; Murakami himself may of done or witness from his friends similar acts during war, but unlike Yusa, he was able to but those aside.

    I am unconvinced of the this human sophistication, and the belief that humans can exist outside violence. Just many people, simply and luckily have not been put into a position to find out whom they really are-it’s all a matter of time and pressure. I’ve seen too many things first hand to think otherwise, and history only goes on to strengthen this thinking.

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    Vili Maunula

    Jeremy: While there is really nothing to point out mental issues with Yusa

    Wouldn’t Yusa’s note about the cat episode, where he reports killing the feline, be there to show us that not everything is exactly normal in Yusa’s mind?

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    Jeremy

    I completely forgot about that. I would think killing a cat would be pointing out some mental issues. I for one, not only forgot about that scene, but never really processed anything the whole time the two detectives visited his house.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Jeremy, you said;

    Murakami himself may of done or witness from his friends similar acts during war, but unlike Yusa, he was able to but those aside.

    That’s the thing, isn’t it? We are all capable of committing terrible acts. I don’t know why some of us don’t follow through, and some of us can “come back” from the edge. And, I don’t know why we all have the potential for doing such harm. That’s the darkness I don’t get.

    The cat-killing associated with Yusa-good reminder, Vili!

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    Jeremy

    Different mental strengths, established by different environmental up bringing? I dont know.

    Most people are good, but I still insist, that is only because they haven’t been in the places and positions the “evil” people have or raised as they have.

    Yusa properly had a much different childhood then Murakami, and while both experience the same war, for Murakami is wasnt enough to put him over the edge, while Yusa might of already been on the edge and the war only push him over. While a bad childhood is no excuse for Yusa, I would contend that Murakami could be Yusa, if Murakami was Yusa.(if that makes sense)

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    cocoskyavitch

    Your theory is probably right, Jeremy. If Murakami was in Yusa’s shoes maybe he would act the same. It’s interesting that this is where we end up when the film tried to make explicit the idea that although the pack of the returning soldier is stolen in both Yusa’s and Murakami’s case, they end up in very different places. But, there’s more to the story of Yusa and Murakami that’s not told in the film, so the reason for Yusa’s choices and Murakami’s choices can’t quite be answered by what we observe in the film.

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    Ugetsu

    I think the difficulties we’ve had in this tread in getting to grips with who or what in the movie is ‘evil’ is a very good reflection of Kurosawa’s own abiguous feelings towards the subject. If Richie is right about all his pre-Red Beard movies as being essentially Kurosawa having his own internal dialogue about what constitutes ‘a good man’, then the confusion most of us have over the characters is exactly what Kurosawa wanted. He didn’t have a solution, he was just putting out his own thoughts.

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    Ugetsu

    Ok, three years later, coming back to this thread….

    On my most recent viewing, I think I was wrong first time around – I think Jeremy was right and there was no intention to state or hint that the second victim was raped. I do think that the hints that she was naked was intended to emphasise one point which I hadn’t really thought about at first – that she was wearing traditional Japanese clothing. I think this is a significant theme in the film (one we’ve discussed in other early Kurosawa films) – the association of western clothing with a sort of contamination, something to be avoided. I think the scene in the room shared by Harumi and her mother is very significant. The beautiful (western) dress is seen as Harumi’s motivation for protecting Yusa. And she (I think very significantly) comes to her senses when her mother tears off the dress and lovingly ties on her kimono.

    Just on the point of the tomatoes and the husbands reaction – again, on reflection, I think my initial feeling that the husband was overemoting is incorrect – I think it was genuine. What I am curious about it whether the quick scene of the squashed tomato has any significance.

    Another key element which I completely missed in this scene is the set of cuts just before we see the crowd of neighbors outside the house. We see a series of ‘still’s indicating a nice, lush and presumably expensive neighborhood. But right before we see the evidence of the murder there is a thunderous parade of American military vehicles sending dust flying. More sly anti-Occupation symbolism by Kurosawa?

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    lawless

    I wasn’t here for the first discussion of Stray Dog, so please excuse me for covering some of the same ground that was trod before. but on first viewing not long after it was covered here and on rewatching it again today, I too wondered if there has been a sexual assault that everyone was too modest to mention directly in addition to the robbery and murder mentioned in the movie. The reason for this was the remarks made by her doctor to the pathologist about how modest she was and how uncomfortable she would have been to be seen that way. I’m assuming that he meant unclothed, not dead.

    I noticed Jeremy’s comment that she might have been wearing a yukata and not much else. I don’t think we saw what she was wearing, her husband was wearing Western clothing, and most of the characters in the movie wear Western clothing, so I don’t think we can make assumptions about what she was wearing one way or the other. In the end, whether anything else happened is ambiguous, but if anything, I think that ambiguity adds to the movie rather than detracts from it.

    As for the husband’s response, that didn’t strike me as all that histrionic under the circumstances (their close bond, his having been out of town at the time).

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    I noticed Jeremy’s comment that she might have been wearing a yukata and not much else. I don’t think we saw what she was wearing, her husband was wearing Western clothing, and most of the characters in the movie wear Western clothing, so I don’t think we can make assumptions about what she was wearing one way or the other.

    One thing that occurred to me on my most recent viewing (and I suppose influenced by Sorensons theory that Kurosawa slipped a lot of anti-Occupation messages into his post war films), is that once again we have a subtle or sometimes not so subtle linkage of western clothing with a notion of decadence. There seems to be a running theme through the film about clothing – the expensive suit bought by the thief, the (western) dress he bought for Harumi (and noticeably of course her mother tore it off her and then lovingly helped her put a kimono on), and so on.

    I was curious about the casual comment made in the film about the first unseen shooting victim, that she had a dowry, and I think it was Sato who says something like ‘I didn’t think people still did this’, implying that the girl was quite traditional and old fashioned. And with the second unseen victim we have this broad hint that this victim was wearing a yukata – i.e. she too was a ‘traditional’ Japanese lady who fell victim to the linen-suited killer. I wonder if there is something of conscious theme here of linking traditional Japanese dress with the feminine, and western clothing with the masculine, with the message that the former is under threat from the latter.

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