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.