High and Low. 1963
This 1963 Akira Kurosawa film opens on a widescreen tense meeting taking place in the large modern living room of a mansion set high on a hill over looking Yokohama. The men are executives in National Shoe a successful company that manufactures woman’s footwear but is having recent problems with profits. The discussion is getting heated between the director played with Samurai like intensity by the great Toshiro Mifune and the other top brass. They want to take over the the company from the old man who owns most of the stock and they’re trying to convince Mifune to go in with them add his shares to theirs so that a coup can take place. Watching this scene take place you would think that this is going to be a corporate drama and you would be right in thinking that. Kurosawa shoots this scene in long takes, straight on and without much movement. His pictorial frame is mainly made up of his characters in tight constricted groups with lots of space around them, and an occasional extreme close-up, it’s almost like watching a play and for a time nothing very dramatic happens. The men get testy with each other, and Mifune finally throws them out with nothing settled between them. Sudenly a crime is commited, a kidnapping to be exact, and the film changes course and becomes a taunt suspense thriller. I don’t really want to give much plot because that will spoil the fun and enjoyment of this terrific film. The original Japanese title was Heaven and Hell and Kurosawa based the film on a pulp novel by Ed McBain called King’s Ransom. The American title High and Low works better and can be seen as metaphors. The house sits on a high hill while below people live in slums and poverty. Some of the characters take the moral high ground while others sink to low standards. For almost an hour into the films nearly 2 ½ hour running time, most of the action is contained in the house, until the police enter the picture and the game as they say is on. The film takes care of the kidnapping victim early on, and the rest of this riveting film is a manhunt to find the criminal. There are some great sequences and set pieces in this film, one takes place on a speeding train, another is set in a crowded interracial dance club and yet another places us in a drug alley with scary and clawing junkies. The ending is also great, its abrupt, dramatic and perfect. One of the 10 best films of the year.