Stray Dog starts with a simple premise. A police officer gets his colt stolen. In order to keep his pride in the office, he goes on a search for it, discovering that his colt was used in a robbery. He teams up with a detective and chases this man who eventually murders for money. The whole story is set against an insufferably hot day in post-WWII Japan. Kurosawa never lets you forget that it is hot. Many people mop their heads, turn fans towards themselves and peel off clothes that are wet with sweat. One in scene in particular is a scene that illustrates this hotness with good authority: it is the scene after all of the dancers get done with their routine. They all ascend in unity to a room full of open windows and lay down on the floor panting. They close their eyes and lie as still as possible as Kurosawa tracks over the beads of sweat decorating each body. It is a great piece of camera movement.
Considered to be early Kurosawa, this film showcases several small techniques or flourishes that he would expand upon in later films. One of these techniques is the use of rain in the film. The film builds to the hope of rain as a welcome repast against the heat and also towards the completion of the mystery of gun thief. When the climax is reached, the rain bursts forth with an animal ferocity. It is no light rain, but rather a monsoon like downpour. The famous beginning and framing of Rashomon makes this flourish of his famous.
This film also features the pairing of Kurosawa’s most famous actors that he would work with again and again: Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. These two actors play off each other in ways that is pleasant to watch. While Mifune is playing against type as a quiet newbie police officer, Takashi takes the driver’s seat and propels the film forward, giving by the end a reason for Mifune to catch this murderer. Another great scene that happens towards the end of the film is when Mifune figures out that the criminal is going to meet his informant at the bus station. He races there and tries to find him by what he has on and what he did the night before. Kurosawa pans across several similarly dressed young men who could very easily be a bad guy. Mifune has to deduce and figure out what would be the best indicator of the criminal. In this moment Mifune becomes the police officer that he looks to Shimura as being. He uses his mind instead of his emotions. But the scene is also a comment on the social status of many young men in postwar Japan. Many men were in the same position as the criminal in that they were coming home from a war that scared them and tried to adapt to society, only to see themselves out of work and unwanted. It was a similar situation that happened in the U.S. after the Vietnam War. This film is about the desperation of two guys to provide for themselves. One, Mifune takes the legitimate route, while the other (the gun thief) takes the illegitimate route. So many men had to make that decision for themselves, some of them only seeing the crime scene as the only available route open to them. Kurosawa says that you don’t necessarily have to work for the yakuza in order to have a good life. You can make the choice on whether you become good or bad. You have the power to decide. This of course doesn’t just apply to returning soldiers but to anyone who is trying to provide for themselves in tough economic times. Although it is a simplistic idea, it is nevertheless a true one.