Men of Action: Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949), and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987)
Last spring, I was in a fascinating class titled “Gun and Sword: Violence and Masculinity in Japanese and American Films.” It was taught by Dr. Carole Cavanaugh, a professor in the Japanese department with a background and interest in film studies. For years I’d been hoping Middlebury would offer a class on Akira Kurosawa, and so jumped to sign up when I caught site of “Gun and Sword.” It was a fascinating class that moved through American westerns and Japanese samurai films and finished with both American and Japanese crime films. As a class we discussed how these genres borrowed and built off of one another, highlighting the distinct link between two cinematic traditions a world apart.
Instead of having us write papers about these movies, Dr. Cavanaugh invited us to make video essays that explored the connection between two movies. I made two such video essays for the class, my favorite being the one which lends this post its name. A longtime fan of Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, I was intrigued by how obviously it borrowed from Kurosawa’s early detective film Stray Dog. Among other things, both movies feature an older detective mentoring a younger man, a post-war setting, and the villainous figure of a gangster in a white suit. I was most drawn to the dynamic between the two lawmen in each film, and so put together a video essay that explored the way that each movie commented on masculinity, crime, and cinematic style.
I revisited that video essay last week and below is a slightly edited version that took out some of the hiccups I didn’t have time to fix when I first turned it in. Hope you enjoy it!