Monday, March 15, 2010

High and Low (1963)

TOP 100 FILMS: #23

When the son of his chauffeur is kidnapped, mistakenly instead of his own son, Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) must wrestle with his inner morals as the money requested in exchange will cost him everything he has worked his life to attain.

"Your house looked like heaven, high up there. "

Kurosawa's two-part ransom masterpiece. Can't sum up High and Low any better than that. There's a strong sign when you've made something so masterful it can't really be explained in words. People take the time to derive all possible translations of your title, and their subsequent meanings. That's what happens with High and Low (sometimes translated as Heaven and Hell). It's a moral study, riddled to the bones with tension. One part ransom drama, one part cops and robber chase to the finish. It's one of Kurosawa's most powerful cinematic efforts.

The first half, dominated by Toshiro Mifune's moral dilemma. Can one weigh their entire life's work against the life of one child? He knows what he has to do, but it's so hard to do it, how can anyone make that call? Then you compound that with the second half. As detective Tokura ( Tatsuya Nakadai) takes over on the case and must hunt down the man responsible. It's good ol' fashion cops and robber thrills. Dark, and entrancing, but swift, always trying to keep the audience guessing.

But to be honest we're not guessing: who did it. On some level we already know (brief glimpses). In fact what we want to know is: why. That's where Kurosawa turns his social conscious into powerful perfection. Amazing subtext with emotionally gripping dialogue, and powerful cinematography. I'm not sure you can ask for much more than that. The layers add on and when the final confrontation comes, it's our minds that pay the cost of such knowledge. The notions of poverty and wealth, self-made men, and generational wealth, how do we dissect the moral strength of them? It's a powerful look, wrapped into the greatest ransom film ever made (yes I just said that). That's why it's a 10. Because, simply put, nobody has ever done it better.

Powerful, thriller, and riddled with social commentary, Kurosawa truly outdid himself with this 1963 ransom tale masterpiece.

Alternate Perspectives:

"This is quite possibly the best film about a kidnapping I’ve ever seen. I love it for so many reasons. Not only is the acting brilliant and the story well handled but it never treats you like a child." - GmanReviews

"The difference is Kurosawa's social relevancy, which elevates this thriller into a pointed examination of contemporary Japanese culture. As Stanley Kubrick would say - rich or poor, good or bad, high or low, 'they are all equal now.'" - The Ludovico Technique

9 better thoughts:

Chase Kahn said...

Love it, my favorite Kurosawa by a mile, which is not an indictment on "Seven Samurai" or "Ikiru" (I love those, too) or any of his other works, I just think "High and Low" is in a world of its own.

And for all of flourishes of "Yojimbo" or "Seven Samurai" or "Ran," I think it's Kurosawa's most visually provocative work - the frame composition (how he fits multiple characters in a single shot) is just wonderful.

Great write-up, your work is inspiring me to catch up on some Kurosawa that I haven't seen. ("Hidden Fortress", "Throne of Blood", "Kagemusha")

The Floating Red Couch said...

Love Hi and Low

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Watched the first 1/2 hr last night on TCM and wow, as always Kurosawa floors me with his brilliance. Was bizarre to see Toshiro Mifune in a contemporary role, I think I've only seen him as samurai's!

I'll have to catch the rest of it later.. was sleepy. So sad to have missed the rest :(

Castor said...

Like Shannon, I had a chance to watch it, last night. WOW, just fantastic. You can see how many US movies afterward tried to copy it.

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Totally agree Castor - I think that is the craziest thing I find about watching Kurosawa is the reverse deja vu effect! Ya recognize it, but from people who used it after.

Univarn said...

@Moxie Really hope you get to see the rest of it! The two act structure just gives it such an epic and complete quality.

@Castor Any chance of me nagging a review out of you for it? :P

thistimeitwillbedifferent said...

I really want to see this but it appears to be difficult (and therefore expensive) to get hold of over here. I'll track it down... one day!

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Have you tried the library ThisTime? That's how I'm looking to see the rest of it, although there's quite a queue my library has it.

thistimeitwillbedifferent said...

You know what? I actually don't know what I'm talking about... my rental company has it!!!!

Hands up who's severly suffering from a lack of sleep, too much work and a fried noggin *puts hand up, walks slowly away, requests early end to the day*

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