Shipping News’ Jason Noble Is Inspired By: Akira Kurosawa’s “Stray Dog”

One constant over the past 17 years of MAGNET has been the music of Jason Noble. First with the post-hardcore Rodan, then the classically inclined Rachel’s, the post-rock Shipping News and the theatrically concerned Young Scamels, Noble has always been involved with projects that interested and challenged us. Noble has two new releases: a live Shipping News album, One Less Heartless To Fear (Karate Body/Noise Pollution), and the debut LP from the Young Scamels, Tempest (File 13). Unfortunately, creating music is hardly the main concern for Noble these days. The 39-year-old Louisville, Ky., native was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, 15 months ago and is currently battling the disease with the determination, positive energy and modesty he has always displayed in his two-decade musical career. MAGNET is proud to have Noble guest editing our website all week. Read our Q&A with him.

Noble: With a master director like Akira Kurosawa, it’s a challenge to pick any one of his films to praise. He’s made so many wonderful and thrilling movies (30!). Yet, until a few years ago, I was strangely in the dark regarding his incredible crime drama Stray Dog from 1949. Starring Toshirō Mifune (Kurosawa’s longtime collaborator in a very early role) and the magnificent Takashi Shimura, this seemingly simple “cops and robbers” film subverts the expectations of the audience. Not to spoil the hardboiled plot—basically, a cop looses his gun in a moment of chaos and then chases down a criminal that is using that stolen gun to wreck havoc throughout Tokyo. With beautiful acting and an unusually graphic visual style (including a montage that seems incredibly modern), a sense of epic struggle and determination fills what could be at first glance a very basic narrative. To see post-war Tokyo is somewhat shocking, and the film has a real sense of scale and historical weight. As with Kurosawa’s other urban crime films (the excellent High And Low and The Bad Sleep Well), there’s a moral discussion at the heart of this story that seems to predict the current work of Michael Mann, Jacques Audiard, Carl Franklin, Christopher Nolan and David Simon. Without easy heroes or villains—and with a painful empathy for each person in the story—Stray Dog is bracing, existential chase film that hasn’t lost any relevance in the last 50 years. Good news? There’s a recent Criterion Collection release of the film with a new English translation. (Thank you to Leon Ingulsrud and Stephen Webber for their input for this article and for being awesome.)

Video after the jump.