1949 – Directed by Akira Kurosawa
One of my obsessions has been the anti-wiki wiki, TV Tropes. I have been a heavy reader, and sometimes contributor. One of my attempts at adding to the dialog, and no claim I was entirely successful, was an attempt to define associational montage, and how focus on items in the middle ground and background have often defined an approach that tries to defy the conventional, plot-driven approach to film. It does tie in with some theories about how Japanese comic book art often uses this type of associative approach in the layout of panels, in contrast to the western approach of showing action after action after action.
In Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, we see a film that seems to mimic western film noir in its moody, yet action-oriented approach.
Despite this, I realized I was approaching it all wrong. I started off wanting to watch it as a regular old film noir/episode of NCIS. It is on some level. It is also about identity on both an individual and cultural level.
Of course, film noir has always about identity, and the internal world of the protagonist. However it is impossible not to view this as a commentary on the encroaching American influence on Japanese culture in post World War II: cheesy nightclubs, women with blowzy perms, crisp white linen suits, and, of course, the unseen but ever present Colt revolver.
The plot is basic film noir: the rookie cop (Toshiro Mifune as Detective Murakami) has his revolver pickpocketed from them on the tram. Filled with shame and guilt over this, he’s determined to find the gun and make an arrest. He is assisted by the seasoned veteran (Takashi Shimura as Detective Satō) on the police force, with whom he begins a journey involving plenty of boozy dames and low level criminals.
Sweat turns to rain. Determination turns to desperation. We keep hitting dead ends. Everyone wants a bit of the good life they feel was taken from them, and, in turn, seem entirely ready to abandon all traces of tradition. The cop increasingly distressed as he realizes that his gun has been at the center of a string of crimes, including at least one murder. He also begins to realize he is not so different from the criminal: yet another veteran striving in a white linen suit.
At risk of spoilers, at the very end when the protagonist finally does finally find and catch the man with the gun, we finally see a shot that is more associational than plot-driven: a shot of flowers and grasses floating above the head of the antagonist. Screaming in agony for all that happened, it’s almost as if this reveal of the associative view is causing him pain, as it does the cop. They have lost, then regained, a cultural perspective. For a split-second, they are not driven by plot, but by reflection.
Perhaps a stretch.
Side note: much like Fassbinder, I’m actually shocked to realize how little of Kurosawa I have seen. I also realize this is a atypical Kurosawa, as most people associate him with his samurai films and later efforts. Another to go into the mix.