Stray Dog (Nora Inu) (1949)

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Released 31-Aug-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Gallery-Stills And Poster Gallery
Trailer-Howl's Moving Castle
Trailer-Happy Together
Trailer-Duel At Ichijoji Temple
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1949
Running Time 122:19
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (56:33) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Akira Kurosawa
Studio
Distributor
Toho Company
Madman Entertainment
Starring Toshirô Mifune
Takashi Shimura
Keiko Awaji
Eiko Miyoshi
Noriko Sengoku
Fumiko Honma
Reikichi Kawamura
Eijirô Tono
Yasushi Nagata
Katsuhei Matsumoto
Isao Kimura
Minoru Chiaki
Teruko Kishi
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Fumio Hayasaka


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Akira Kurosawa is justly famous for the samurai films he directed, such as Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961). However, in a career that spanned more than fifty years, he directed more than thirty films that cover a wide generic range, particularly melodrama and thriller. Toshirô Mifune, another staple of Kurosawa films having starred in 16 of them including the famous samurai films, stars in Stray Dog (1949). Mifune's co-star in Stray Dog is Takashi Shimura, who starred in 22 of Kurosawa's films, many of them also with Mifune. (During their careers Shimura and Mifune co-starred in 54 films.) Mifune plays Detective Murakami, a rookie cop who has foolishly allowed a pickpocket to lift his pistol on a crowded bus, and Shimura, portraying the wise mentor figure he typically plays in Kurosawa's films, is Detective Sato, a jaded cop who is a veteran of the streets Murakami turns to for assistance.

    As a rookie, Murakami was in training on the shooting range on a hot, sweltering day, before boarding a crowded and stuffy bus for the journey home. Fatigued and careless, Murakami receives his first lesson when the gun is lifted and his exhaustion is compounded by fruitlessly chasing a young man through the back alleys of a ghetto. Sato provides the second lesson: Murakami was mistakenly chasing a stooge who lured him away from the real light fingers. Stray Dog is a series of lessons in police procedure, contrasting the rash and impulsive youth of Murakami against the calculation and experience of Sato. However, as the mercury rises the pressure gradually mounts when Murakami's gun is linked to a shooting, and Sato dubs the killer a stray dog (mad dog is the subtitled translation): "He's killed someone. A killer's like a mad dog. ... A mad dog only sees straight paths."

    Stray Dog is also a film about choices. Investigation reveals that the killer was a war veteran who was robbed on his journey home and left destitute, before desperation turned him to a life of crime. But Murakami counters with his own story, where he was also a war veteran who was robbed on his journey home. He too felt the sting of desperation and the lure of crime, but instead chose to pursue a career in law enforcement. He knows he made the right choice, but still can feel sympathy for his quarry and the circumstances that lead him down that path: "They say there's no such thing as a bad man. Only bad situations." Sato has been too long on the job, has lived through it all, and can now only counter with: "I just hate them, that's all. The bad guys are bad."

    Stray Dog is a film that takes its time, with a lot of the story devoted to Murakami pounding the beat in the hope of finding a lead before he teams up with Sato. In fact it is too long. The pace begins to pick up as Murakami and Sato start to track down some real leads, and the tension steadily builds as the temperature continues to rise and a storm begins to build on the horizon. Stray Dog rewards patience, and both Mifune and Shimura deliver solid performances as you would expect. If you like Kurosawa's samurai films you should definitely see some of his lesser known melodramas and police thrillers, such as Stray Dog.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Stray Dog is presented in a frame ratio of 1.33:1, which is close to its original of 1.37:1, and is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    This is a transfer let down by its source print, which seems to be a problem that afflicts all DVD versions of this film, and indicates the likelihood of the same print or transfer being used for different regions and discs. A general softness afflicts the transfer, along with a consistent shimmering. The blacks and the shadow detail are weak, which is obviously disappointing in a black and white film. No colour to discuss in this film. Low level noise is not a problem here.

    MPEG artefacts and film-to-video artefacts are kept to minimum, with only some mild posterization visible on sweaty faces and minor telecine wobble. The print used has definitely seen better years and has not been cleaned up very well. There are a lot of film artefacts, such as marks and scratches, most of which are not too distracting. At 78:42 there is white rectangular blemish in the middle of the frame and a few seconds later at 78:49 there is a flurry of blemishes across the frame that looks like water or moisture damage. This kind of damage is also very noticeable at 63:05 with two horizontal lines of damage in the top quarter of the frame that last for a second. There is also a large smear at 100:29 which is very distracting because it partly obscures an actress' face for a second.

    This is a Japanese film, so I watched from start to finish with the subtitles on, but I can't judge their accuracy. There was no problem with poor English or non sequiturs in the translation. The subtitles are on by default but they can be deselected.

    This is a RSDL disc and the layer change, which was very quick, smooth, and not disruptive at all, was at 56:33.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is only one language soundtrack for Stray Dog, the default Japanese, which is a Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at 448Kb/s and not surround encoded.

    The audio fares better than the video, and is clear of hiss, distortion, clicks and pops. However, it does betray the limitations of its source, and sounds somewhat hollow.

    The dialogue sounds fine and I could not detect any sync problems.

    The music is credited to Fumio Hayasaka and is very moody and expressionistic.

    As a mono soundtrack there is no surround presence or subwoofer activity.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     I don't consider these to be extras, but I'll provide a basic description of what is on the disc.

Menu

    The menu is a 1.33:1 still image from the film of Mifune and Shimura, and is accompanied by a short loop of music from the film.

Stills and Poster Gallery

    This is 20 photographs from the set and stills from the film, plus a handful of posters. They are quite small and not particularly memorable.

Trailers

    There are 3 trailers here, and it is very disappointing that none are the trailer for Stray Dog. Instead we Madman's trailers for Howl's Moving Castle (accompanied by a very lame Disney narration), Duel at Ichijoji Temple and Happy Together.

Packaging

    I don't normally comment on packaging (especially as it's not always available on review discs), but this relates to the new ratings logo controversy. Madman obviously don't care for the unsightly logos, and have printed the inside of the sleeve with exactly the same pictures and information, but without the logo. Slide it out, flip it over, slide it back in, and presto!, no more logo.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Stray Dog has been released in Region 1 by Criterion on May 18th, 2004, and in Region 2 by BFI on March 25th, 2002.

    The Region 2 has a running time of 117 minutes, which is 5 minutes shorter than the Region 1 and our disc, is dual layered, has a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and is accompanied by burnt-in English subtitles. The extras come up short, with only biographies for Toshirô Mifune and Akira Kurosawa plus sleeve notes.

    Criterion's release in Region 1 is also dual layered, and has a Dolby Digital 1.0 track with a separate subtitle stream. The prize on this disc is the commentary by Stephen Prince, a renowned academic who wrote The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa. There is also a 32-minute documentary on the making of Stray Dog, Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create, and a booklet with an essay by Terrence Rafferty, a film critic, and an excerpt from Kurosawa's autobiography, Something Like an Autobiography. The reviews for the Region 1 disc are inconsistent: "this is not up to Criterion's usual standards"; "the restoration work here is phenomenal, all things considered"; and "I'll still wager it is the best image and subtitles for this film available anywhere, but it is one of the poorer Kurosawa Criterion releases."

    Those inconsistencies are obviously the result of subjectivity, and the reviewers' various descriptions sound very similar to the disc we have been given here. Strangely, our PAL disc has an almost identical running time as the Region 1, 122 minutes, and doesn't account for the 4% speedup. Our disc should have the same running time as the Region 2's 117 minutes or the Region 1 should be about 127 minutes. According to IMDB the running time is 122 minutes.

    Not a hard choice - Criterion has done it again and provided the best version available. If you can't afford it, and can do without the extras, the new local disc will keep you happy.

Summary

     Stray Dog is very effective and taut thriller from Akira Kurosawa, starring two of his favourite actors, Toshirô Mifune and Takashi Shimura.

    The video is a very good transfer of a very average source print which is showing its age.

    The audio quality is very clear and distortion free, but shows the limitations of its mono origins.

    The extras are almost non-existent, which is very disappointing considering what is available on the Region 1 disc.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Michael Cohen (read my bio)
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPhilips 860, using RGB output
DisplaySony 76cm FD Trinitron WEGA KV-HX32 M31. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationSherwood
SpeakersSherwood

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
another madman NTSC conversion? - Anonymous
Stray Dog various regions - flixyflox REPLY POSTED