Akira Kurosawa is better known for his historical epics (Ran, Seven Samurai, Throne Of Blood, et. al) and his intimate historical dramas (Rashomon, Yojimbo, etc.) than for his handful of modern-day films. But one of his greatest achievements in a long career of fantastic features is 1963’s High And Low, a gripping present-day drama based on an Ed McBain crime novel. Kurosawa’s favorite star and frequent collaborator, Toshirô Mifune, stars as Kingo Gondo, a wealthy executive in the middle of a daring but risky management coup at his company. Then his son is kidnapped, and held for an exorbitant ransom; paying it would financially destroy Gondo. But almost immediately after deciding to pay anything for his son’s return, he learns the kidnapper accidentally nabbed his chauffeur’s son, instead. The chauffeur couldn’t possibly pay the ransom, so Gondo has to decide how to balance his career, family, and future against the life of an employee’s child.
The complexities and stresses of that moral dilemma would make for a gripping film on its own, but midway through the film, Kurosawa and his screenwriters take the story in a sharply new direction, as the hunt for the kidnapper takes center stage. High And Low becomes three films in one: a taut chamber drama, then a gritty police procedural, and then a jazzy, nervy 1960s thriller.
So we hope you’ll join us in watching Kurosawa’s High And Low and talking about it next week. Tuesday’s keynote will focus on a key theme connecting Kurosawa’s films, from the bushido era to the present. Wednesday, the Dissolver corps will talk about class issues, Kurosawa’s present-day films, and the film’s squalling jazz soundtrack. And Thursday, Mike D’Angelo offers a formal analysis of how the film’s literal move from high to low confuses the question of how the audience identifies with the cast.
(Note: We don’t recommend watching the trailer, which opens by giving away the film’s ending. But those who don’t mind can check out Criterion’s translation of the Japanese trailer, which showcases the movie’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and some of its most memorable shots.)
Upcoming Movies Of The Week:
February 25: American Movie
March 4: The Royal Tenenbaums
March 11: Dazed And Confused
March 18: American Graffiti