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Playing at the film club: Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa)

Film Club: Stray Dog (Kurosawa, 1949)

Stray Dog

This March, our film club turns its attention to Kurosawa’s 1949 film Stray Dog. Often considered Kurosawa’s first masterpiece, the film follows a young detective (Toshirō Mifune) in pursuit of his stolen pistol in post-war Japan.

The story originated as a novel that Kurosawa attempted to write in the style of crime writer Georges Simenon, likely during the Toho strikes of 1948. Seeing cinematic potential in what he had written, Kurosawa turned the story into a screenplay with the help of Ryūzō Kikushima, a first-time screenwriter that would go on to collaborate on a number of Kurosawa films.

Production began in July 1949 and ran for three months, wrapping in September. The film was released on October 17, 1949 and was received enthusiastically by both audiences and critics. It ranked number three in Kinema Junpo’s list of best films of the year and won four awards at the Mainichi Film Concours the following year. The film has been remade twice, first in 1973, and again in 2013.

If the previous two Kurosawa films that we watched, Ikiru and Throne of Blood, were like the flipsides of a single coin, in some ways Stray Dog, which predates the two films, includes both sides of the coin in a single film with its exploration of personal responsibility and how you let your circumstances define you. It also touches on the topic of last month’s Coriolanus, the question of the returning soldier.

Stray Dog will also start a mini series of doppelgänger films for us. We will watch Ingmar Bergman’s Persona in April, return back to Akira Kurosawa with his 1980 film Kagemusha in May, and then watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in June.

Home video copies of Stray Dog should be widely available wherever you are. For information about English releases, see Akira Kurosawa DVDs.


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Discussion

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Ugetsu

I love this film with a passion and I consider the final scenes to be perhaps the greatest ending to a genre crime thriller ever. I certainly can’t think of a better one.

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Ugetsu

I just watched it again – the first time in a few years. It really does stand up to multiple viewing, for a genre film it really is full of riches.

First thoughts: I hadn’t really noticed before just how strongly the film focuses on the westernisation of Japan post war – and clearly in a negative way. We are introduced to it when the first female thief we meet has given up her famous kimono for a cheap western dress – and all the female characters after this are overtly westernised in both clothes, hairstyle, and mannerisms (notice how they all sprawl on chairs in a most un-Japonese way). Even the scene immediately preceding the episode of the dead woman – it shows for no obvious reason a jeep full of American soldiers. Its hard not to see Kurosawa sending a message.

And one little curiosity – Kurosawa in all his films are quite precise about military details. I was wondering if there was a reason for his focus on gun being a Colt? I looked it up and the gun appears to be a Colt Model 1908. And yes, it does use specific ammunition (consistent with the plot line that the police could immediately recognise the bullets as from a colt). The .25 ACP bullet shown is also common to FN M1905 – according to Wikipedia the FN and Colt are based on an original Browning design. FN of course is a Belgian company – a nod to Simenon as influence?

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Ugetsu

While the film is fresh in my mind I’d like to throw out a few random thoughts on the film – I know some may require their own threads, I’d just like to outline them here and see what people here think.

First off – I only really noticed on this viewing just how important forensics are in this film. The scene where the scientist matches the bullet is straight out of CSI. I can’t honestly think of any film before or contemporary in which forensic science is so central to the plot. Was this genuinely new or was this a feature of those American and European crime films AK seemed to have liked so much? Was this the first true forensics crime film?

Related to this – the film can clearly be seen as a genre film, but which genre? Some writers describe it as noir, but I find it hard to see any obvious noir influences. Is it a crime whodunit? A gangster film? Some critics have noticed some similarities to Bicycle Thieves, in that the protagonist is engaged on a search through the ruins of a post war city. Is it really better to see it as a straightforward drama?

Now to specifics. The scene in the house of the second victim, the murdered woman, bothers me. There seems to be all sorts of things going on and I’m wondering if Kurosawa intended some sort of deeper message here. First of all it starts, curiously, showing us American soldiers in a jeep, speeding down an urban lane. This scene seems to have no obvious connection with subsequent events. As with the first woman shot, we never see this second victim, but we learn a great deal about her. She is clearly, from the house, upper middle class and untouched by the war and aftermath. The neighbour describes her as ‘very pretty’. The family doctor emphasises her modesty and how she would have hated to be seen (presumably naked) even after death, hence he ‘interfered’ with the body (I assume by covering it). This seems a direct contrast to all the other female characters we’ve seen, who have been bold, quite sexual and definitely westernised. Then after the doctors dignified words, the husband behaves in a histrionic manner, shouting and ripping out the tomatoes. Are we supposed to sympathise or feel that he is more upset about the impact on his own life than the loss of his wife? It seems over the top. I really don’t know what to make of this scene, dramatic though it is. The policemen witnessing it seem similarly speechless.

Finally – is there a deeper meaning to the repeated motif in the film of bodies rolling on the ground? We start with a panting dog. Then we have the famous scene of the dancing girls, rolling and sweating in their packed room. Before this, Murakami walks hesitantly in a doss-house, stepping gingerly over sleeping men. Then we have the three happy plump children, sleeping ‘like pumpkins’. And finally, we have Murakami and the killer, rolling on the ground in an almost post coital manner after their final fight.

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njean

Help! I want to post a couple of photos, but I’m unable to paste them into my comment. They get copied, but the Paste doesn’t work. What am I doing wrong?
Thanks for your help.

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Vili Maunula

Njean: I’m afraid there is no public image upload functionality for the website. I suggest that you upload the images to a public image host such as Imgur and then link them here using the image linking tag.

Sorry about the hassle!

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njean

Like Ugetsu, I’m struck by the overwhelming influence of the American occupation on Japanese life, as it’s portrayed in Stray Dog. Below are a few examples.

The woman (Ogin) who stole Murakami’s gun now has a permanent and wears a dress, no longer the kimono for which she was known. She complains to the policeman that he’s “violating my civil rights,” a clear (and humorous) reference to the American-imposed new constitution. As she walks out on them, she says, “Bye-bye.”

As Murakami walks through the black market, he hears a continuous chorus of music, all of it western. Big band, waltzes, pop songs, you name it. The radio playing in the hotel when Sato gets shot features a Mexican (I think) song. The dancing girls at the Blue Bird Club perform to western music. In the scene where Murakami and Ogin are sitting outside on the roof of some sort of structure (she has just bought him a beer), a man in the foreground plays the harmonica with great concentration. He is playing ‘Anniversary Song,’ popularized in the US in 1946 by Al Jolson and Saul Chapin. Their recording became a big hit in 1947, and here it is in Tokyo, presumably introduced by the Americans.

There are signs in English. The umpire in the baseball game yells “Play Ball!” The dress that Harumi longed for is a western style party dress. Etc. Etc. How much life has changed in such a short time!

Ugetsu wondered about the significance of the jeep, cars, and bus, which appear just before the film takes us to the murdered woman’s house. I listened to Stephan Prince’s commentary on the Criterion disc, and his interpretation is that these are people coming to investigate the murder. Would American soldiers really have been involved? Who knows. Also, regarding the long discussion in the 2008 film club, Prince says, “Yusa has raped and murdered a young woman.” And he repeats this a bit later. Perhaps there’s something in the Japanese dialog that hasn’t been fully translated. Personally, I think a rape hurts the story, for reasons that folks discussed at length in 2008.

One other thing. Again in the scene with Murakami, Ogin, and the harmonica player, Ogin and the camera look up at the sky, and she says, “In the last twenty years I’ve completely forgotten how wonderful the stars are.” I assumed she was referring to the twenty years of militarization, war, and shortages, but maybe it’s even more specific than that. A couple of books were published by Japanese journalists right after the war, spelling out their view of what had happened. Volume 1 came out in December, 1945 and was called ‘The Twenty Year Typhoon.’ It was an instant success, as was Volume 2 in 1946 and the consolidated version later in 1946. They were all huge best sellers (many hundreds of thousands of copies) well into 1947. So the reference in the film to the phrase ‘the last twenty years’ would surely have resonated with the audience in 1949 because of these books. And of course one can’t see the stars during a typhoon.

I want to write a bit about the portrayal of class in the film, but it will have to wait….

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chomei

Ugetsu, you make a good point about the influence of westernization on Japan in this movie. The female thief talks about her civil rights, probably not a term used in pre war Japan.

The caravan to the murder site may be all Japanese. The first car, the Jeep, had police in it who would secure the crime scene, the second and third cars were detectives and forensic people with the ambulance coming up the rear. I watched the scene several times and cannot make a clear determination however, maybe it is US Army people.

The husband of the murder victim is first shown kneeling next to a flower arrangement. I believe Japanese flower arrangements have meaning based upon the type of flower and its placement but I have no idea what this means and wonder if anyone out there has a thought.

At the very beginning of the movie we see Mifune running after the pickpocket and there are many choices that he has to make, which street which alleyway to take. The same thing applies when he is following the female thief. There are so many openings entrances and exits, he has to make all the right choices. I think this is a clue to the film, he had a choice to make and the killer had a choice to make, they took different paths.

And this movie also has an narrator, who is he? Why does he tell us it was a very hot day. It’s obvious it was a hot day, you sweat just watching this film.

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Vili Maunula

It’s interesting that the husband of the murdered woman indeed goes from sitting beside a Japanese flower arrangement to attacking the garden tomatoes. Tomatoes don’t feature in traditional Japanese cuisine and at least according to a Japan Times article didn’t even get popular in Japan until the 1960s, remaining a luxury in post-war Japan. Could this be another reference to and/or veiled criticism of the westernisation of Japan, like the others that have been mentioned here?

Ugetsu asks what genre this film should be classified in. It is often called a film noir (including by Wikipedia) but as we have previously discussed the label doesn’t fit quite perfectly to any Kurosawa film. I suppose I would rather call Stray Dog a crime film. Not a whodunit or a gangster film, as neither are really at the forefront of the story.

Ugetsu: Finally – is there a deeper meaning to the repeated motif in the film of bodies rolling on the ground?

I hadn’t thought of that, but you are right, there are a lot of bodies on the ground in this film. I have no answer to your question but that’s a really interesting observation.

njean: So the reference in the film to the phrase ‘the last twenty years’ would surely have resonated with the audience in 1949 because of these books.

That’s fascinating! I’ll have to read more about this.

chomei: And this movie also has an narrator, who is he? Why does he tell us it was a very hot day. It’s obvious it was a hot day, you sweat just watching this film.

The film seems to have a running motif of featuring information that is duplicated or otherwise repeated in what seems like an unnecessary fashion.

There are many instances of this, but my favourite is just after the one hour mark where we encounter Yusa’s letter about the crying alley cat. We not only see the written words on the paper, but we also hear a voice over reading them to us, and we hear the meows of the cat as well. That’s basically the same information conveyed three times on top of each other.

Additionally, we don’t even know who the reader is. It doesn’t sound like Yusa, it certainly isn’t either Murakami or Satō, and it isn’t the voice of the voice-over narrator from the beginning of the film. Who or what is reading us those lines? We can’t know.

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BMWRider

Some very insightful analysis. I was prepared to comment but will first revisit the film a bit more. As an opener, this film and Scandal were within the first 10 Kurosawa films I saw many years ago. I oftentimes think they both do not get their due because they appear within the first seven years of Kurosawa’s directing career, or perhaps they are seen as not having done anything revolutionary, like Rashomon is. I would argue they are both good stories and sometimes that is good enough. Not to mention all of the subtleties that casual viewers (particularly westerners) miss. I shall return but wanted to thank you all for your input.

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Ugetsu

njean –

Also, regarding the long discussion in the 2008 film club, Prince says, “Yusa has raped and murdered a young woman.” And he repeats this a bit later. Perhaps there’s something in the Japanese dialog that hasn’t been fully translated. Personally, I think a rape hurts the story, for reasons that folks discussed at length in 2008.

Thanks, I’d forgotten about that discussion! My japanese is still not up to understanding the scene, but I still think its a misinterpretation to say the woman was raped – that fundamentally changes the dynamic of the story and it makes Murakami’s sympathy for the criminal hard to stomach. I assume the reason Prince came to this conclusion was the doctors comment about her clothes and near-nakedness. But of course a wealthy woman alone in her home at this period during a hot summer would almost certainly be wearing just a light loose silk yakuta which could easily come undone when she is shot. At least, I assume this is the conclusion a contemporary Japanese audience would come to.

This leads me to a related thought about the women – or specifically the younger women – in this film – all the thieves and showgirls are overtly wearing western clothes and aping western attitudes and customs, even down to the way they sit. But of course all the younger women we encounter are poor or marginalised. This unseen woman is the only upper class woman we encounter in the film, and the director is bringing our attention to her ‘japanese’ clothes and her modesty. Is he trying to make a point here about the chaos and westernisation among the masses inevitably intruding rudely into the lives of those Japanese trying to maintain their status and lives as the world changes rapidly around them? This was of course a central theme in his later crime films, especially High and Low. I was reminded of a comment by a radical economist about the American rich ‘not noticing that the Hamptons are not in a defensible location’. Is the choice of victim and location intended as a message that nobody is safe if you ignore the plight of the marginalised and poor?

Also njean, thanks for those comments on the night sky – that’s very interesting, I had wondered about the ’20 years’ reference, it makes a lot of sense. I’ve often thought that Kurosawa’s films of this period should very much be seen as his ‘conversation’ with his audience. To me, other film makers like Ozu and Mizoguchi tended to preach to their audience, Kurosawa of this period always to me seemed to be having a conversation with his contemporaries – not giving answers, just asking people to think about where they are and what direction society is going.

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Longstone

I watched the film again this afternoon , it gets better every time I see it .
A couple of quick thoughts,
Detective or “mystery” stories seem to have been a popular genre of fiction in Japan since before the war, if Kurosawa started this story as a potential “mystery” novel then perhaps the novel had a narrator and maybe that transferred across into the screenplay? I’m sure I’ve read translations of Japanese crime/mystery novels that were told as though there were a narrator. It could be an attempt to preserve that style.

Regarding the unseen female murder victim, maybe although she seems to be preserving the old Japanese values , clothing , modesty , flower arrangements etc. even she hadn’t escaped western influences , illustrated by the growing of tomatoes as you note Vili? I wondered if that was Kurosawa’s point, that even the most Japanese of people were absorbing those influences if it matched their status?

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njean

One of the themes of the film is the ability to, and the necessity of, making a choice at a critical juncture. Murakami and Yusa were both in the war, both had their knapsacks stolen, both came back to the city. Yusa turned to crime. Murakami, moving beyond his intense rage at the time of the theft, became a cop. One bad choice, one good choice. Kurosawa emphasizes the similarities between the two men. The rabid dog, as Sato observes, sees only straight ahead: Yusa sees only Harumi, and Murakami sees only his gun. Sato says Murakami identifies with Yusa. Murakami says he feels sorry for him, and he (Murakami) seems to recognize how easy it is to go astray: “All those years in the war. So many men became beasts at the slightest provocation over and over.” Richie says, “He (Murakami) takes upon himself the crimes of the criminal – because it was his gun which was used.” They even dress alike – light colored suits and hats. In the fight scene, they become practically indistinguishable from each other. So there it is – they are the same, except for a critical choice. We are all just humans, capable of good and evil – which will each of us choose?

But is it really so simple? Looked at in another way, Yusa and Murakami are not alike at all. According to his sister, Yusa was “a sweet gentle kid,” but since coming back from the war he is “like a stranger. The poor boy.” She finds him sitting in his hovel in the dark, crying. The sister’s husband says, “He’s always blaming the world, the war.” Sato and Murakami read Yusa’s hand-written note in which he describes killing a cat (“a coward” like himself) and asking “What’s the point?” Murakami is very different. He is upright eager, energetic, responsible, thoughtful. The way forward is clear to Murakami. Yusa is weak and lost. The only way forward that he sees is to give Harumi a present, in the hope of winning her. And the only way to do that is to steal some money. To expect such a desperate soul to carefully weigh the ethical implications is to ask a lot. The point is that the “right” choice may be apparent to Murakami, but Yusa may not even recognize that there is a choice. Perhaps that is why Murakami feels sorry for him. Murakami tells Sato, “They say there’s no such thing as a bad man. Only bad situations.” To Sato, however, this is all nonsense: “I just hate them, that’s all. Bad guys are bad.”

So, Kurosawa gives us two different ways of viewing the same story. What does he himself think? Clearly Murakami is to be admired. He recognized the crossroads and he made the right choice. But I think Kurosawa urges us to try to understand Yusa, rather than simply condemn him. Certainly Yusa’s anguished crying after the long fight with Murakami is pitiable in the extreme. Why is his life so hopeless? All we know is his sister says, “He turned bitter” when his knapsack was stolen. Why did he have to steal? Harumi gives us a clue. “I would have stolen it myself if I’d had the guts. They deserve it for flaunting these things. We have to do worse than steal if we want things like this. It’s the world’s fault. A world where people steal a vet’s knapsack…..The bad guys eat and wear anything they want. Might as well steal.” The have-nots of the world thus pose a real danger to the haves, particularly when (as here) the former have so little and when the gulf between them is so wide. It’s a theme Kurosawa returns to in High and Low.

How wide is the gulf in the film? It ranges from the homeless on the street, to the flophouse where Murakami briefly stayed, to the comfortable suburban middle class house of the murdered woman, with its trees and garden. In between are Yusa’s hovel (“unfit for human habitation” according to Sato, Sato’s house (“a glorified shack”), and the rundown tenement where Harumi and her mother live. The 40,000 yen stolen from the first victim was her entire savings from three years. Sato says his family could live on that for an entire month (recall that when he brings Murakami home for dinner, the only food in the house is some squash and beer). Whereas 40,000 yen is a significant sum for Sato, the distraught husband of the murdered woman laments that she was killed for “a measly 50,000 yen.” The gulf will get even wider in High and Low.

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Ugetsu

Thank you njean, thats an absolutely fabulous analysis. I agree wholeheartedly that there are much greater depths to this film than the simple one of of seeing Murakami and the killer as being just the yin and yang of having made a key choice at a crucial moment.

It shows just how universal and (sadly) contemporary Kurosawa’s films can be. The unfairness of inequality is as acute and relevant as ever – this is very obviously a key concern of the film. Harumi is a key character in this regard, she is the only one who directly vocalises the deep unfairness of society at the time – maybe even she is AK’s voice in this film. Her words and desires must have hit home very hard with the typical Japanese audience member at the time – Japan really was in dire financial straits for years after the end of the war and no doubt most of them had to scramble money together just for an evening at the movies.

Your focus on the 40,000 yen is very good – I’d wondered a little about the specificity of the sums mentioned. The notion that this sum could be utterly crucial for a poor hard working young woman, a months living for an ‘average’ person, while a ‘trifling sum’ for others, must again have been something that had audiences nodding in agreement.

And as you say, Murakami and Yusa are not simply the same person having taken different routes. Murakami is clearly a tough and determined man, a survivor. Yusa seems to have been delicate, easily broken – and ironically as such becomes a killer. And of course there is the issue of PTSD and the number of damaged men let loose on the streets after the war. There must have been tens of thousands of brutalised, mentally scarred men returning from the war finding themselves with no real opportunities. This is something alluded to in many films from the period, including those by Ozu, but rarely directly addressed at the time. This must have been something very much at the forefront of AK’s mind when writing the script.

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njean

Ugetsu –
I agree with your assessment of the importance of Harumi. And I thought the actress did a great job! Just the right amount of insolence.

Regarding returning soldiers, I’ve read that some folks looked down on them because they lost the war. Besides, on coming home they only add to the problems of scarcity and poverty. Not to mention PTSD. One didn’t even need to go into battle to be traumatized. Mifune’s son talks about his father’s military service on the “Mifune, The Last Samuri” DVD. The son says, “He reminisced about those times, always adding that we’d never understand. He was beaten by his superiors. They struck him again and again with the soles of their leather shoes. All he could do was clench his teeth. My father always had that forceful voice and his superiors didn’t like it. They thought he was too cocky for a young inexperienced soldier.” Mifune was drafted in 1940 or ’41 (I can’t remember which), was stationed in several different places, and spent the last part of the war helping to train young boys to become kamikaze pilots. He himself never saw combat. His son goes on, “I have no experience with war, but listening to his stories I knew he went through a lot when I saw him crying.” As Ugetsu says, imagine “tens of thousands of brutalized, mentally scarred men returning from the war finding themselves with no real opportunities.”

I didn’t do justice to Sato in my previous comment. He tells Murakami repeatedly that a good cop can’t afford to be emotionally involved. He is particularly dismissive of Murakami’s feeling sorry for Yusa. He says let the psychiatrists worry about understanding the criminal. It’s his (Sato’s) job to round them up and get them off the street, no matter what their motives were. Sato’s sympathies and concerns are with the law-abiding multitude, who will continue to be preyed upon by men like Yusa, however deserving of pity Murakami may think he is.

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Ugetsu

njean

And I thought the actress did a great job! Just the right amount of insolence.

Thats a good point, she got that balance exactly right – somewhere between being a spoiled child and a strong willed woman. I looked her (Keiko Awaji) up and it seems it was her first film – and she was only 16 making it. She seems to have had a very long career after that, although it seems didn’t work for Kurosawa after that. I assume that unlike many of the other familiar faces in the film she wasn’t one of the contracted studio actors (unlike her ‘mother’, Eiko Miyoshi who pops up in many of AK’s films, and other famous films of the period).

Regarding returning soldiers, I’ve read that some folks looked down on them because they lost the war.

The impression I get from my reading is that there was a bit of embarrassment around soldiers as everyone wanted to just forget and move on. They may not have been rejected, but they certainly didn’t receive a big welcome home. No doubt this fed into many individuals loneliness and bitterness, especially the many who may have not had families to return to. Some films I’ve seen of the period allude to a resentment that the fairly comfortable business classes, many of whom (the men anyway) avoided being drafted – deliberately using their head start after the war to trample down those who lost everything in the period. There seems to be ghosts of this resentment in many Japanese post war films, even those of the 1970’s and later.

As for Sato – yes, he seems to be set up as the contrast to Murakami. I think AK directs quite skilfully in that he never quite lets us know which one he has more sympathy for. Perhaps he wasn’t sure himself. But the more I think of it, the more I think Harumi is the authors voice in the film.

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Vili Maunula

njean: Whereas 40,000 yen is a significant sum for Sato, the distraught husband of the murdered woman laments that she was killed for “a measly 50,000 yen.” The gulf will get even wider in High and Low.

I never thought of that, but now that you mention it, the film indeed does seem to reference inequality in a number of places. Interesting!

I have really enjoyed the discussion here and don’t have much to add to it. For some reason though, I keep thinking about Yusa’s name. Is it meant to be a reference to the (y)USA? We learn Yusa’s name from his rice ration card, the “beikoku tsūchō” (米穀通帳), which is shown at around minute 56. The film makes a point to teach us the spelling of his name there. And while 米穀 (“beikoku”) stands for rice, its homonym 米国 (also “beikoku”) is the word for the United States. So, in a sense it could also be the “USA card”. Coincidence? If not, it’s another example of the film presenting us with information duplicates, copies and double meanings.

By the way, the issuing date of Yusa’s card is January 8th, Shōwa 23, which unless I’m mistaken corresponds to January 8th, 1948. It’s also the date of the third draft of the Japanese peace treaty, but I don’t know whether this would have been something that Kurosawa knew about. It was also around the time when the US unveiled a new policy for Japan (reported at least in Singapore on the 8th of January), but I am probably reaching here quite badly.

Speaking of doubles, Yusa’s first name, 新二郎 (“Shinjirō”), is quite possibly another example of doublings. The characters in his name spell “new second son”, which I would think is a reference to him being a copy of Murakami (who in turn is literally the “village superior”: 村上).

Also, I wonder if it’s meaningful that Yusa’s family name 遊佐 shares a character with Satō’s family name, 佐藤. The character in question, 佐, means “help” or “assist”. But the preceding character in Yusa’s name, 遊, means “play”, perhaps negating that “helping”, or making it insincere. Meanwhile, Satō’s second character refers to the Japanese wisteria plant, which apparently has connotations of longevity and wisdom, as well as being a very Japanese thing to begin with. If we consider Yusa the new USA and Satō the old Japan, perhaps Murakami’s two “helpers” can be interpreted highly metaphorically.

But as I said, I may be reaching.

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njean

Speaking of reaching…….
I’ve been reading an excellent book about the American occupation. The book is Embracing Defeat (Japan in the wake of World War II) by John W. Dower, published in 1999. One of the chapters is “Cultures of Defeat,” in which the author discusses, among other things, the popular literature and photography of the day. He presents a photo from 1947 by Hayashi Tadahiko, which immediately reminded me of the scene in Stray Dog (beginning at about minute 16:21) where Ogin brings a beer to Murakami, then climbs up to join him on a ‘roof’ which seems to consist just of several logs. She talks for a bit, then ties back her hair, and lies back with her arms under her head. When I first saw this scene, I thought what in the world is happening here? There appears to be some sort of structure, and the logs are a sort of makeshift but incomplete roof. Why are they sitting on the logs? And the last thing she would do is lie back. How uncomfortable! The whole thing seems contrived.

But now that I’ve seen the photo by Hayashi it makes more sense. It’s a posed photo of a model in a two-piece bathing suit, taken on the roof of a theater in Tokyo. You can see it here:
http://www.tumblr.com/search/hayashi tadahiko (that’s a space between hayashi and tadahiko)
This is what Dower says about it: “The hardship of those days is readily apparent, but so also is the esprit of hardship and a humorous, even defiant elan. The photo is witty and sad, naturalistic and contrived, erotic and strangely innocent. Decades later, it remains an icon of the cultures of defeat as memorable for what it excludes as for what it depicts. We see no Americans here, no politicians preaching democracy, no figures in military uniform, no hints of nostalgia for the past, no vestiges of the state – just the bittersweet ambiance of life on the margins in a defeated land.”

I don’t think this can be a coincidence. The photo was already famous in 1947. This must be another example of Kurosawa referring to something that would be known to the audience, and using it for his own purpose.

Or, maybe I’m just reaching.

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Ugetsu

njean, thanks for that link – what an amazing photo! I don’t think you are reaching at all, I think that photo is very reminiscent of the rooftop scene. As you say, that little moment in the film is such a curious respite from the otherwise furious pacing, it had to have a specific meaning. I think you’ve made quite a find there.

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