High and Low

High and Low ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Part of my Akira Kurosawa Marathon

This is the only Kurosawa film I’ve reviewed previously, and that review reflects my thoughts in this latest revisit. However having watched all his previous films and having done some research I have some things to add here.

The title perfectly reflects the structure of this film: it starts HIGH (or Heaven in the original title), both literally (the house on top of the hill) and thematically (the house of a rich family); it ends LOW (or Hell), in the poor areas of the city, where junkies and the kidnapper (Takeuchi) live. Because of this thematic structure, I can better understand why the junkies scene at the end was so long. It wasn’t just for plot (Takeuchi testing the drug), it was mainly to shows us the living conditions of this “hell”.

The train sequence was very short but it had a huge impact, mainly because it comes after almost an hour of static shots in Gondo’s house (which are perfect for the situation, never boring). On the train we get quick cuts and fast moving subjects, so it’s all very exciting and tense.

The switch from High to Low is a shot of the canal water, as if we’re now going through another world, which is upside down, meaning completely different. This is another masterful camera work, both visually and thematically interesting to my eye.

The police meeting where each department presents their own findings, is spliced with short flashbacks to their police investigation, illustrating their report. This reminded me of a similar technique Kurosawa employed in some of his early works (Sanshiro Sugata, The Most Beautiful).

Another recurring visual is the Japanese hot summer (as seen in Stray Dog, I Live in Fear), here only seen in the LOW part of the film, although there is one short scene of Gondo mowing his lawn and sweating, as if to mean that now that he’s lost his wealth, he also suffers the summer heat.

It was interesting to note how benevolent the police are in this film. They not only want to catch the kidnapper, but want to get the highest sentence because… of Gondo’s sacrifice. Even the press are benevolent and collaborate with the police to catch the kidnapper, a complete 180 from Scandal.

The final confrontation shows another recurring theme in Kurosawa’s work (see Stray Dog, Drunken Angel, The Bad Sleep Well). Gondo and Takeuchi are facing each other but they’re separated by a glass panel. When shooting them in close up, their reflection almost superimposes on each other’s faces. I think he’s telling us that while they represent good and evil, they are actually not too different, what distinguishes them is class and the choices they made. What if Gondo chose not to pay the ransom? I think he would have been regarded as evil as Takeuchi, by the press, the public, his wife, even himself.

In this rewatch I enjoyed this film as a thriller, a police procedural just like my first watch. However I have a deeper appreciation of the themes and techniques employed by master Kurosawa.

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