One year before becoming an internationally famous director with RASHOMON, Akira Kurosawa filmed this tense, philosophical crime drama that owes much to American film noir.
The film stars the two actors most associated with Kurosawa: Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. The two would go on to play some of the most famous characters in the Kurosawa canon, and make a tremendous team in STRAY DOG, representing both generational sides of the war - the older set that ruled before the war (Shimura), the younger set that is inheriting a Japan in the throes of cultural upheaval (Mifune). Shimura outshines the youthful Mifune here, giving a relaxed, confident performance as an easy-going elder detective and family man, while Mifune's is somewhat stiff portraying an agitated rookie trying to track down his own gun, now being used in a crime spree.
The film has two sequences that Hitchcock might have loved. The first is at a baseball game, where the two detectives try to find a single suspect in a crowd of fifty thousand fans and then, once located, coax him out of his seat without causing a disturbance. It is a clever, suspenseful scene that also features stock footage of the Yomiyuri Giants that might be interesting to baseball and war historians. The second has the older detective, unaware a killer has been alerted to his presence, calling his partner on the phone. From the short tracking shot that reveals the killer's feet descending the stairs, to the gunshots heard through the phone on the other end, the scene is a masterpiece of suspense that, were it not for the Japanese cast, could easily be mistaken for a classic Hitch setpiece. - JB