Superhero movies happen to be taking an intriguing management of late. Forget about the gaudy, big-budget antics of Marvel’s Avengers along with the train wreck that has been Batman V Superman – it is in the opposite end of this scale, as really it had been with comic strips, which storytellers are starting to innovate and experiment. Stray might not be the most imaginative of those projects but there is something intriguing about its own transplantation of Japanese genre tropes into the US, that can be concentrated less on introducing them to some other culture than on researching the consequent culture clash.
What’s more, director/co-writer Joe Sill has not just stolen tropes and employed them to white American characters – many of his personalities are visitors or immigrants, themselves Japanese in origin, which delivers an intriguing device whereby to face the white Americans with something that they do not know (but something by which genre-savvy audiences are most likely to have a level of familiarity), instantly shifting the typical equilibrium of sympathies. Though not one of those characters are particularly well developed, there is capable acting all around and the end result is as strong as most modern Japanese genre operate but using all the US trappings to put in a little bit of extra flavour.
It starts with Christine Woods as Murphy, a cop investigating the mysterious case of a corpse which appears to have been greatly discredited or perhaps petrified yet without the indications of concomitant harm in the surrounding area. It does not take her long to realise that there there’s something quite strange about the woman, something vaguely unnatural, but asking profound questions about that type of thing does not appear to be her forte. She decides to assist Nori find the truth behind her mother’s premature end.
Even though the story is straightforward (beyond its mixing of two distinct collections of genre conventions), it is stylishly presented. There are a number of well observed scenes early on if Nori has become conscious of Murphy’s shortcomings however has no one else to turn to. Pop celebrity Miyavi ends out as a mysterious biker who might hold the secret to Nori’s last in scenes bound to appeal to his supporters. There is much musing on the nature of responsibility and family, and there is a supernatural showdown that, although it does not really involve individuals leaping up in the atmosphere and changing shape as the background changes color, uses only marginally more subtle CGI methods to deliver something comparable.
Despite its defects, this inquisitive little hybrid is certain to intrigue and has enough going to be well worth seeking out by celebrity lovers. US audiences unfamiliar with Japanese theatre will find it pleasingly different from what they are utilized to yet available enough for a fantastic introduction.