3 August 2002 | jandesimpson
The brilliance of early Kurosawa
Impressive as some of the later films of Kurosawa are - "Kagemusha" and "Ran" for example, I have to confess that it is his early work, particularly those set in modern Japan as opposed to its feudal past, that I find myself returning to with greater pleasure. He was not one of those artists who necessarily got better and better, rather was he one who continued to take on different challenges, not always with the same degree of success, as "Dodesukaden" and "Dreams" were to prove. I have long regarded the 1952 "Ikiru" as his greatest achievement, with the three modern day day films starring Toshiro Mifune that precede it, "Drunken Angel", "The Quiet Duel" and "Stray Dog", fascinating consolidations of his skill as a director. "Stray Dog" revels in technical accomplishment. It tells the story of a policeman who, after experiencing the theft of his gun while travelling on a bus, embarks on an odyssey to retrieve it. Questions of morality and honour loom large as they do in any Kurosawa film, with the quest becoming ever more urgent as evidence is gathered of the weapon being used in criminal activities. What might be regarded as plain bad luck in another culture is here seen as a matter of shame and dishonour by the unfortunate policeman, that has to be addressed forsaking all else. The search is pursued in a dazzling series of chases, encounters and interrogations that leaves the audience, like the hero, exhausted at times. The weather is hot throughout, characters sweat profusely and sometimes everything erupts in a tropical downpour - no other director uses rain so physically. Perhaps, at over two hours, "Stray Dog" is a little too long to sustain its material. It sags a little in the middle, but the chases at the outer ends of the film are wonderfully done, particularly the penultimate sequence where the cop pursues his prey through vegetation where city and countryside meet. You can almost smell the steamy atmosphere of a morning after rain where everything is about to heat up again. Possibly the other two Mifune films of the same period have the edge on this. They are more meditative works, their lengths more sustainable. But, for sheer cinematic bravado, this is the one.