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Stray Dog: The End

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    I’d been meaning to post something on this, but I’ve struggled to find something more articulate to say on the subject than Richie. I think I mentioned it before on a previous thread, but when I first started to watch Kurosawa movies, it was the final reel of Stray Dog that convinced me that Kurosawa was a true genius of cinema. I’ve tried hard to think of another thriller with a more profoundly beautiful and satisfying final few minutes than Stray Dog, I simply can’t. The scene in the field is so beautifully filmed, but also sums up the themes of the film (and also expands on them) in a wonderfully expressive way which I think is deserving of a whole months worth of discussion in itself. In Richies words:

    ‘In this profound and beautiful sequence all of the elements of the film come together. The images are those of love and hope: sunrise, rooster, flowers, children, lark, Mozart – yet here are two grown men trying to kill each other. The battle finished, they are revealed as identical…. Mifune’s quest is done and he turns to look at what this did to him – and he finds a frightened man who realises he may never again hear a lark or see a flower or listen to Mozart.’

    But then Richie says:

    ‘But Kurosawa is too wise to leave it at this…’

    Actually, I found the very final scene (where a conversation takes place between the recovering detective and Murakami) pointless… just a standard summation of the plot you find in lesser movies where the screenwriter feels compelled to tell us what we’ve just seen. I’m reminded of William Goldmans book ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’ where he talks about how Hitchcock blew the end of Psycho – instead of ending at the scene where the rockingchair is turned around to reveal the skeleton, he drags on for another 10 minutes with a psychiatrist character telling us about mental illness. But as Goldman said, it didn’t matter in the end because all the audience remembered was screaming at the sight of the skeleton, they blanked out the anti-climactic ending.

    So am I right in thinking that maybe Kurosawa should have just cut at that final scene in the field? Was the ending one of those tacked on endings that maybe was insisted on by the studio?



    I agree completely, I prefer rather harsh and sudden endings. Leaving on a powerful note, will actually make the film far more effective, and make even the weak scenes appear important. Granted some exceptions are needed, but explaining the ending, as you mention is a bit pointless, doing so tends to be underestimating the audience’s intelligence, as well as showing lack of confidence in story telling.

    Another issue is, if the film ends with a explanation to the events, the audience is allowed to build quickly and taught a logic to what they seen.

    It can rather important, to leave the audience bewildered to some extent, and them leaving the theater still trying to piece together a few elements, allowing them on their own time, and on on their own way, to build a logic. It is also this, that has the power to spark a conversation or a thought about the movie 2 days later out of the blue, or many people concluding different thoughts about the movie. This is powerful stuff, and you should avoid taking that away.

    Now the dangers is simply, is if the audience fails to find logic, and is just bewildered, then you got a bad movie, poorly executed. It is a fine line to dance, and why often the studios play the odds, and force a explanation scene. Leading to the weakening of a strong film, but typically saving a weaker film. The problem is the studio rarely can see the good from the bad.

    I have no idea what Kurosawa’s thinking might of been, or how Japanese studios thought at the time, but I would say in this movie, a mistake was made. Perhaps, it is the explained ending, that prevents such a wide range of view points and the strong conversation, as we had in Rashomon, and Yojimbo. ❓

    While I’m at it, I should say, I dont think all movies should end abruptly, in Seven Samurai’s case, the slowing down of the action, allows reflection and feedback from the characters. Such stuff doesnt make good films, it makes masterpiece. But I’m not stupid enough, to think I know what goes into making a masterpiece-so I end here. 😆


    Vili Maunula

    An interesting question, Ugetsu.

    I actually think that the coda here is necessary, although I also do see the attraction in cutting off after the duel. But what the final scene offers is proper closure — narratively, emotionally and in terms of the argument(s) that Kurosawa is putting forward in the movie.

    As for the narrative closure, the coda brings us back to detective Sato and affirms us that he is doing fine and recovering. It also stresses the double duality of Murakami’s character, as he is, after being associated with Yusa in the duel, now paired with Sato, with both of them recovering in the hospital from a gun wound. Much has in literature been made of Yusa as Murakami’s doppelgänger, and rightfully so, but I think that the connection between Murakami and Sato should not be overlooked.

    Emotionally, had the movie ended with the end of the duel, the film would, I think, leave us with a wrong note. It would be a fine ending for a fast-paced film about a detective trying to recover his gun, but that is not really what Stray Dog is about. It is a much more contemplative movie, and its focus is more social in nature. You therefore want to leave your audience in a pensive mood, and finishing with the duel scene would not really do this. There is too much adrenaline involved in that scene, and I feel that the audience needs to be calmed down so as not to give the wrong impression on what the film is about.

    Which brings me to the argument or the question that the film wants to put forward, namely what to do with Yusa — is he the result of his environment towards whom we should feel sympathy, or is he just a criminal who should be punished? Both views are voiced, but no answer is given. Yet, by actually stressing the open ended nature of its investigation in the coda, the movie can get away with this, and can leave us to make our own decisions. Without the coda, I feel that we would be left without a proper contrasting of these two views.

    It is, by the way, interesting that out of the four movies that we have discussed so far, in the case of three we have questioned Kurosawa’s endings.



    In this post about the conclusion of the film, the discussion revolves around the coda after the climactic scene in the field. Ugestsu and Jeremy think it could have concluded in the field, and Vili thinks the denouement is necessary to the shape of the film. So, I am remembering, that this is where Kurosawa tries to tie up the loose ends and emphasize the good/bad split. It’s as if in High and Low, Stray Dog, and Drunken Angel Kurosawa is trying so darned hard to convince us (and himself?!) that some people are good some are bad, and that’s that. At least, that’s Sato’s view. He tells Murakami that he will eventually stop identifying with the criminal and stop struggling to understand the whys and wherefores of criminality so that he can continue to just do his job.

    I always do ponder about the nature/nurture issue-what percentages, what influences and how much of them count? I’m adopted, and have thought of myself as my own little social/science experiment. More and more, I see the influences of my culture, upbringing.

    It’s funny- I used to think I was so individual-somehow able to “choose” what and who I would be. But, lately, reading a lot of Japanese literature, I see in high relief the cultural assumptions that have shaped my attitudes. For example: I cannot even think about sex unencumbered by Judeo-Christian guilt! And, it’s funny because I really thought I was so free of all that nonsense. But, then you read something from another culture that makes you understand that your cultural environment is there and is real, and even if you don’t buy into those assumptions, they form a background to who you are and your understanding of the world. So you can be as free and liberated as you like-but the understanding is that this huge monolithic culture of Judeo-Christian values forms the backdrop or stage setting against which you act.

    And, lately I have heard myself say the same things I have heard my adoptive mother say. I cringe, but there it is-! Many of the habits of my upbringing are coming home to roost in my brain. nature v.s. nurture are battling it out.

    The continuing irritant of Kurosawa’s film conclusions seems to me to be directly related to Kurosawa’s desire to wrap things up neatly, to sew up the questions of why people are bad (there is always a character who wants to dismiss the bad guys as simply bad) and what to do with the bad guys.

    I may have always been off-kilter with this, and may be misreading the films and Kurosawa’s intent. Please tell me if I am wrong. here goes:

    I think that Kurosawa’s genius is his ability to have within himself two opposing ideas at once-both at a volcanic level-and to express these two ideas is a way that sucks the viewer in to wrestling with his/her own oppositional ideas. Kurosawa’s films express an incredible desire to find simple answers, but betray the validity of simple answers through the very vehemence of the arguments. The lights go on and the viewer continues to struggle with the content of the film. Now, that’s good eatin’.

    So, when Yusa and Murakami, covered in mud, are in the long weeds of the field, and Yusa, hearing the children sing, cries out in the pain of understanding all that he has lost through his violent actions- well, we feel for him!

    Then, we cut to the hospital where Mifune/Murakami and Shimura/Sato are convalescing. We see Shimura/Sato telling Murakami to forget about Yusa.

    But, it’s impossible! We can’t forget! So, I think the tension continues…we walk out to the theatre completely unable to forget, and still troubled by Yusa and his crimes, and the whys and wherefores.

    That’s my take on it. For me, Kurosawa is so amazing because of the amount of power in diametrically opposed arguments is not diffused, and continues within the viewer.

    Am I reading everything wrong? (It’s possible.)



    think that Kurosawa’s genius is his ability to have within himself two opposing ideas at once-both at a volcanic level-and to express these two ideas is a way that sucks the viewer in to wrestling with his/her own oppositional ideas. Kurosawa’s films express an incredible desire to find simple answers, but betray the validity of simple answers through the very vehemence of the arguments. The lights go on and the viewer continues to struggle with the content of the film. Now, that’s good eatin’.

    Brilliantly put – exactly my feelings (I just don’t have the articulacy to express them so well).

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