Classic Review – High and Low (1963)

Title – High and Low (1963)

Director – Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai)

Cast – Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Takeshi Katô, Kyôko Kagawa

Plot – Wealthy Japanese businessman Kingo Gondo (Mifune) is blackmailed when one of his staff’s children is kidnapped and held to ransom, leading to a race against time to find those responsible.

“I’d rather be told the cruel truth than be fed gentle lies”

Review by Eddie on 10/09/2020

More readily remembered for his stunning work in the action/samurai genre, famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa proved multiple times throughout his career that he was happy to tackle subjects and features well outside of what would appear to be his usual repertoire.

Films like detective noir Stray Dog, drama Ikiru and this hard-boiled thriller High and Low, showcase an artist that was constantly looking to push himself and his talents to deliver thoughtful and timeless pieces of cinematic entertainment.

Not as frequently spoken about in the mainstream when topics of Kurowsawa come up for discussion, High and Low is a black and white masterpiece of sweat inducing tension and intrigue as the masterful director gives us what appears to be three films in one, as we follow the initial extortion, exchange and hunt of the perpetrator that has held Toshirô Mifune’s wealthy businessman Kingo Gondo to ransom when they kidnap his chauffeurs young son and demand a mutli-million dollar fee to return him safely.

Tackling subjects of the class divide between the poor and the rich and also just entertainingly a search far and wide for answers to the mysterious crime, High and Low is first and foremost a pulse-pounding affair that mixes hefty dialogue lead scenes with set pieces that still feel incredibly staged, especially an integral bullet train sequence around the half way mark of the film.

You wouldn’t say High and Low features great character depth or even memorably individuals as such, even if Mifune is great as the hard to gage Gondo and Tatsuya Nakadai makes his mark as the hard working lead inspector Chief Detective Tokura, a man with whom Gondo doesn’t always seem to share a great affection with, but it is in most instances a gripping affair that refuses to take the easy route as Kurosawa remains headstrong in offering a unique and no doubt genre changing example of the genre.

Many of the police procedurals we have seen in times since High and Low’s release, from The French Connection, Prisoners through to Zodiac all feel as though they owe elements of their being to this film, that whilst not perfect, is still one of the most finely tuned detective pieces one could hope to see.

Another unique and special addition to the film is the way in which Kurosawa shoots its Japanese set back drop, with the industrial side of the city through to the slums of criminal activity about as far away from his rural samurai masterpieces as you would get but feeling absolutely as alive and vibrant with character and even in one stunning instant, color.

Final Say – 

You may not remember the characters or emotional beats as fondly as the rest of the film but High and Low remains a benchmark police drama that is both thrilling and layered. A worthy classic from a master a cinema showcasing his wide reaching talents.

4 chimney’s out of 5 

2 responses to “Classic Review – High and Low (1963)

  1. Fantastic movie. So glad you reviewed it. How much of Alfred Hitchcock did you detect in the film, especially in the scene composition, use of close-up, or the development of the suspense?

    The scenes that take place in the condo make me wonder if it would translate well as a stage play.

    • Oh this could absolutely be a play mate, that is a brilliant idea ha!

      There was certainly a bit of the Hitch in this, it really caught me how much a film like Zodiac owed to this film, you could really see how it inspired future films in the genre.
      E

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