STRAY DOG, about a rookie homicide detective named Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) searching for his stolen gun in 1949 Tokyo, is the first great film directed by Akira Kurosawa and is equally superb as a riveting detective thriller, a painstaking police procedural, and a sociological study of
the moral and economic conditions of postwar Japan. Kurosawa consciously follows the model of Hollywood films noirs, with lots of moody low-key lighting and the depiction of a morally ambiguous "hero's" descent into the underbelly of society, and as Murakami becomes immersed in his obsessive quest
(a favorite Kurosawa theme), the homeless and unemployed, the defeated soldiers, and the black marketers and prostitutes all become a microcosm of Japanese society in the wake of WWII. Stylistically, the film is one of Kurosawa's best and he infuses it with numerous innovative visual ideas,
including optical wipes, a mobile, hand-held camera, and most notably, authentic, documentary-like street-scenes, particularly the extraordinary eight-minute dialogue-free sequence where Murakami poses as a returned soldier and wanders through the slums looking for a gun dealer. Probably the
longest montage in film history, it consists entirely of close-ups of eyes dissolving into feet and faces as the sun beats down on the sweltering crowds, and was actually shot by Ishiro Honda, the film's second-unit director, who would later gain fame as the director of Toho's classic monster
movies, including the original GODZILLA (1956) and most of the sequels. Another excellent example of this quasi-documentary style is the tension-filled baseball game sequence which presents a real game in progress, intercut with Murakami frantically searching for a criminial in the crowd. It's a
brilliantly filmed and edited scene that's quite possibly the first time a sporting event was used in the context of a manhunt, something that would later become a staple of crime movies.
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