Friday, November 11, 2011

High and Low (1963)

Akira Kurosawa's riveting kidnap + police-procedural drama is an absolute delight to watch. The reasons are many and this is perhaps one of the few instances of a Kurosawa film being set in the contemporary world.

Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is a top executive of National Shoes, who aims high and plans to buy out most of the shares of the company. He feels he is the only one who possesses the wit and expertise to do good business with the resources at hand and manages to rub the other shareholders the wrong way. He puts everything at stake and amasses the means to carry out his task when things take a turn for the worse as he receives an anonymous call from a person who claims to have kidnapped his only son. The kidnapper demands a whopping 30 million yen in return for the son. Just as Gondo is coming to terms with the situation he realizes his son is still around the house and the kidnapper accidentally kidnapped his Chauffeur Aoki's (Yutaka Sada) son! Gondo is faced with a dilemma of losing a fortune and his dreams of owning National Shoes against keeping it all and being branded a cruel man who let his chauffeur's son die! What choices does Gondo make? What happens to the chauffeur's son? Is the kidnapper finally nabbed and brought to justice?

Kurosawa's film is not a run-of-the-mill Hollywood-like thriller. Like any other Kurosawa film this one also looks deep into the psyche of the characters and lets the audiences understand them. Almost all players, from the lead character Gondo to his chauffeur Aoki, to some of the Police officers involved, everyone has considerably meaty roles to play and that is a big plus. In fact Mifune's character takes a backseat in the entire second half of the film, as the cops take over in one of the most intense investigation missions I've ever seen on screen. There are some very clever scenes in the film that reflect the director's genius and you can't help but smile in admiration!

Every frame of this film is rife with suspense as you wonder what would happen next; how would this character behave next, what steps would he take? Pretty soon, we, the audiences, become part of the whole case as we feel for Gondo and empathize with him for the soup he is in. It soon becomes National news and the entire Police force is put on the task of tracking down the perpetrators!

The investigations are shown to the last detail as they unfold across the 2.5 hours length of the film and it is no surprise, Kurosawa being the man behind this! The intention, I presume, was to show the immense difficulty the police face in cracking such cases. The measures they take, the sleepless nights they spend, the way they have to cling to every little shred of evidence they get that can lead them to their man. Yes indeed, it is a time consuming and frustrating process and Kurosawa couldn't have done a better job of showing it on screen. We are led deep into the investigation and yet in a very lucid manner, without confusing the audience too much, like a magician, Kurosawa gets us audiences involved in the case! It is this wonderful quality of Kurosawa's filmmaking that takes "High and Low" to a much higher level than any other film with a similar premise that you may have seen.

The cinematography is another aspect worth appreciating. Asakazu Nakai and Takao Saito capture some of the finest images and make great use of the widescreen aspect ratio! Superb frames all along and cleverly shot scenes, especially in some of the most important sequences in the film that require ingenious camerawork.
Acting is amazing as well with yet another standout performance from the legendary Toshiro Mifune! What an outstanding display of angst, frustration and anger, you almost feel that he is actually going through all the trauma. It is a superlative piece of acting that has to be seen to be believed! Great supporting acts from Tatsuya Nakadai as Chief Inspector Tokura, Kenjiro Ishiyama as the scary looking detective Taguchi, Yutaka Sada as the Chauffeur Aoki, Tatsuya Mihashi as Gondo's right hand man, Kawanishi, Kyoko Kagawa as Mrs. Gondo and finally Tsutomu Yamazaki in a short but extremely memorable performance as Ginjirô Takeuchi. The five minutes sequence between Mifune and Yamazaki is highly disturbing, yet worth a standing ovation.

Takashi Shimura also makes a small apperance as the Chief of Investigations, but isn't given much to do except look over the Police meetings and take feedback.

Akira Kurosawa's "High and Low" is perhaps one of his most under-appreciated films and one that puts most other films of the premise to shame. Do not miss this highly captivating, suspenseful drama. 

Score: 9/10.


  1. Great review, do you have two blogs? Haha. Anyway, I have not seen a lot of Kurosawa, but I love what I have seen!

  2. Thanks!
    Two blogs? No..why do you ask?

  3. Hahahaha turns out i'm following another Aditya, and i've thought it was your blog I had been commenting on! Ooohhh man, I worry about myself sometimes ;)

  4. Wow...really?!
    Does this other guy write similar reviews on similar films??

  5. Now that I look back not really, but his last review was of the Wrestler haha. I'm probably just stupid ;)

  6. Also, I am doing a tournament on my blog where people vote on who are the greatest actors and actresses, if you want to participate drop by and let me know!