Before Kurasawa made Yojimbo, before Seven Samurai, even before Roshoman, he made a nail biter of a detective story called Stray dog. It's the story of a young rookie detective who gets his gun stolen on a crowded bus. To his horror the gun ends up in the wrong hands and becomes the instrument of a string of crimes.
Detective Murakami, our protaginist, played by Kurosawa's golden child Toshiro Mifune goes on a rabid search for his lost pistol through post WWII Japan, combing the desperate and depraved ally ways in a city full of strays to get a lead on his sidearm. His ham fisted detective skills are presided over by veteran Detective Sato , Roshoman's Takashi Shimura who teaches Murakami the subtle ways of a successful gumshoe.
The dynamic between these 2 is very reminiescent of David Fincher's film Seven. In fact its impossible to watch Stray Dog without quite a few modern refereces coming to mind. And, we have the story of the cop who loses is gun in P.T. Anderson's Magnolia.
At the films center though is a story much like Scorsese's film The Departed. Murikami finds out hes on the hunt for a stray not unlike himself. Both hero and villian are just off the fronts of a lost war, and in a highly moral turn both of them have had thier knapsacks stolen along with all their money and belongings. On one side of the coin we have Murakami who joins the force, on the other Yusa who joins the underworld.
But, unlike Seven the film never goes for nihilism. Though they may be two sides of the same coin, Kurasawa makes it clear that the difference is not merely the chance of the toss. And, like The Departed Kurosawa uses every chance to compare the two, a comparison that isn't lost on the protagonist and his own nagging questions of accountability and the dark forces of desperation.
In contrast to many of Kurosawa's more popular later films, Stray Dog keeps the suspense wound tight making this 1940s film a breeze to watch even by todays standards. And like anything he's done, there's plenty of tough questions to chew on once the lights come back up.