Stray Dog

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The first noir crime film in Japan, in Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949) rookie detective, Murakami, gets his pistol stolen while he’s riding a crowded bus. Humiliated, Murakami (Mifune) takes responsibility for his carelessness and begs his boss to fire him. The pragmatic boss brushes his request away and pairs the rookie with a veteran detective (Shimura) named Sato. The two set out to track down the pistol.

Plagued by guilt, Mifune is obsessed with finding his pistol and disguises himself to search the black markets of aprés-guerre Tokyo. We see the squalor and darkness of these markets (which aren’t quite as bad as the poverty in Dos’ka den). These scenes are beautifully and masterfully shot to show this underworld full of hustlers, prostitutes, bums and drunks.

Aprés-guerre is a term Murakami and Sato discuss at length as Sato notices the difference between the pre-WWII generation and the aprés-guerre generation. A WWII veteran, Murakami expresses his sympathy and understanding for the culprit whom he imagines is a product of a rough society. Yusa, the thief, also is a veteran so Murakami identifies with him and knows how the war damaged the soldiers.

However, Sato tells him that thinking is generational and won’t help a cop do his work. If a cop’s philosophy views a criminal as being without choice or responsibility, the officer just won’t be able to work as he should, Sato asserts. Sato reminds Murakami that he’s chosen law and order, while Yusa’s chosen exploitation and crime. There is a difference, a big one.

As time passes, the missing gun is used in robberies and a murder. Murakami knows the pistol had all seven bullets and the plot becomes a race to get to the gun. In this race, the heroes’ search takes us through Japanese society from local watering holes, to a packed baseball field, to a burlesque hall, to a filthy shanty and to Sato’s simple, loving home. Along the way we’re treated to Sato’s wise practice.  It’s fascinating to see him deal with each subject, be it a showgirl or a pickpocket, with just the right approach. His understanding of people makes chasing and shootouts unnecessary.

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I learned about Stray Dog from the commentary feature with the Drunken Angel DVD. Mifune and Shimura starred in Drunken Angel. Here they both play completely different characters. Mifune moves from angry gangster to exemplary rookie cop and Shimura shifts from righteous drunk doctor to wise, veteran cop. Another pivotal performance was given by Keiko Awaji, who plays a showgirl, an uncooperative witness. In the extra features, Awaji explains how she didn’t want to be in this or any film. She wanted a career in operettas, but she got talked into this role. She was terribly pouty and unpleasant about the filming process and this difficult attitude made her performance work. Go figure.

I never intended to get into Japanese films as much as I have. I now have been so impressed with the stellar performances that it’s clear that it’s high time I learn the names of these actors.

Here’s a compilation of Mifune’s performances:

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Crimereports.com

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Worcester, MA

I just found a helpful website if you’re looking to move somewhere, Crimereports.com. You type in a town and state or zip code and can see a map and data of all the recent crime reported in the vicinity. If you click on each symbol, you’ll get a brief description of the crime and it’s case number.

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University of Illinois, Champaign

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DePaul University, Chicago Illinois

Surprisingly, The neighborhoods of DePaul University and Loyola’s downtown campus in Chicago has far less crime than these smaller cities.

Neruda

Until I saw Neruda, I had no idea what a selfish jerk poet cum senator Pablo Neruda was. I just thought he wrote beautiful romantic poetry. He was also a senator for the Communist party and gave a controversial speech against the Chilean president. In response, the president orders Neruda’s arrest and the libertine churl goes underground.

The film isn’t exactly a biopic as it’s told completely from the point of view of  Oscar Peluchonneau, a police officer played by Gael García Bernal, who’s the Ahab to Neruda’s white whale. This police officer imagined that his real father was a legendary police officer and he wants to prove himself by capturing Neruda. Throughout the film the officer narrates and comments on Neruda and waxes eloquently on the pursuit’s significance.

I had no interest in Neruda who had no concern for his friends who were risking their lives to keep him safe. If he felt like a walk to the local brothel, he’d go no matter how that might expose both him and his friends.

I found the central character obnoxious and the voice overs were soon annoying. I so disliked Neruda, who was full of hot air in his political career, with little real concern for the poor people he grew up with that I’m not sure anything could make me like the film. However, it did win the 2017 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film so some writers did like it.

Waking the Dead

waking_the_dead_wideweb__470x360Waking the Dead is a British reliable, sturdy police procedure. While it’s not in the same league as Luther, it entertains. Waking the Dead depicts a cold case police unit and each crime is solved in two hour long episodes. Episode one and two revolved around solving the case of a teenage girl who was abducted, raped and murdered.

The hero is Det. Sup. Peter Boyd who was on this case the first time. He wants to make up for botching the case. We get a little, but not much of his personal life. Mainly the show is about solving the case, which is fine. Boyd’s not flamboyant, very no nonsense. The drama lies with the situation with the occasional conflict amongst team members.

There was enough here to keep me watching and to watch again.

Five Days

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While not as compelling as MI-5 (a.k.a. Spooks) or Sherlock, Five Days is a solid detective program from the BBC. The series looks at a crime and all the concerned parties, police, suspects, victims and guilty party, on five different days: the day of the crime, the following day, a week later, a month after that and 108 days after the crime. It’s an original premise and works.

I viewed season 2, not realizing it was season 2. The season was self-contained so there was no problem knowing what’s what. The central crime involved a person in a burqa who jumps in front of a train. Why? Who is this? Is there any connection to a baby who’s abandoned at a hospital the same day? There are several plot lines going at once, but their kept clear so viewers don’t get confused. It’s easy to get caught up in the search for the truth about the train accident/possible murder, the detective’s relationship with her mother who’s got dementia, the abandon baby’s future and the Muslim couple’s quest for a baby. There’s a lot going on, but the pacing and plots are handled well making for a series that works. I will go back and watch the first series.

I could easily become a long time fan if they make more.

The French Connection

Cover of "The French Connection"

Cover of The French Connection

Popeye Doyle just didn’t do it for me. The third film I watched coming to China was the well known cop film The French Connection with Gene Hackman. It’s got a great chase scene that I’ve seen a few times, but I think there have just been so many good cop dramas on TV and the silver screen that have characters with more depth and chases that are just as riveting. This story of just didn’t grab me as much as I hoped it would.

Roger Ebert liked The French Connection much more than I did.