Nora inu / Stray Dog (1949).
For several years after the end of World War II, the country of Japan went through several difficult changes. The country was occupied by the allied forces, which I could only presume placed a large amount of strain on the Japanese citizens. Statistics of reported crime was on the rise, there were numerous accounts that included the involvement of American troops (source). According to an educational video from the United States military, there was unique involvement of demilitarizing Japan and the use of secret police in order to monitor the strength of the country.
This particular element of Allied occupation in Japan, in addition to numerous other issues affecting the country after losing a major world war, not only influenced a major restructuring of the country’s economy, military, but also upon the culture of the country. Despite the occupation, Akira Kurosawa was able to produce an entire post-war film about crime and police work in the style of an American film noir story without including a single reference to the military occupation. Although he was able to tell an intriguing story successfully as a social commentary of post-war Japan, minus the occupation, his film Stray Dog (1949) was questioned by the American censorship board.
Upon their review of the film, it was improperly assumed that the panting dog seen in the opening credits was mistreated and abused in some fashion or another. Although I have had a bit of a struggle finding educational evidence that supports such a statement there is a rumor that Kurosawa’s showed only a single regret for Japan’s military loss of World War II after hearing the response from the American censorship board.
With a bit of reflection upon my experience of watching Stray Dog as an interesting film noir I have observed that it does not necessarily reinvent any particular American film noir movie. Rather the film adapts the classic genre created by the Hollywood filmmakers and it translates the style into a setting that is clearly related to Japanese culture in many ways. A naive, rookie homicide detective has lost his small handgun on an overcrowded bus ride home on a hot summer day. It is with great shock when he discovers his empty pocket when he was expecting to find his side arm, but quickly he arrived at the conclusion that he was pick-pocketed by a thief on the bus.
In trepidation of dire consequences that could possibly occur beyond his control, he places a formal request to leave his position at the local precinct. However, his boss refuses to allow him to be a quitter over a lost gun. With an eager desire to be responsible for his carelessness the young rookie cop sets himself on a mission to retrieve his gun and to punish the criminal involved; thus the conflict of the film unravels as the hero unravels the dark mysteries of the criminal underground.
This film is such an innovation to the history of cinema that it spawned an entire new method of storytelling in the world of movie making. It would be the unique way of use flashbacks as the primary structural support of the film’s plot in order to tell the story. Each of the main characters that appear in the story is being interrogated about a crime that was committed, and each one had perceived the events in a completely different way. This places the audience in the viewpoint of the interrogator who has no clue of the actual events that have taken place until he is able to hear several versions of the same story and begins to piece together the consistent facts that are shared among every witness and participant.
In most cases of incorporating a flashback sequence into a story can run amok for the storytelling if it appears to the viewing audiences as a cliché. Very often, I find myself relentlessly bored if a filmmaker attempts to use a flashback sequence to tell any small portion of a story. It has grown mundane and useless to me in some instances. However, in the case of Rashoman the method has served the purpose of placing the audience into the mindset of the inquiring character who is attempting to piece together the numerous stories of several characters who have been connected with a crime that is in need of punishment. As each character recalls the previous events, despite various elements of each person’s story not quite matching with the stories of the other characters, the audience must disseminate the information and figure out the true events that have unraveled between them.
Akira Kurosawa has wonderfully created a method of storytelling that pulls the audience right into the situation and keeps their mind active in what is happening on the screen. The method of Rashoman storytelling has been used in other films such as Courage Under Fire (1996) and Vantage Point (2008). It proves the power of Kurosawa’s influence in the world of film making when other people are copying his style of storytelling.
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