Monday, December 12, 2005

High and Low


Dir: Akira Kurosawa

Morality play examining the choices made at points of ethical uncertainty. I use the word "play" purposefully, as the movie's first, and strongest, third looks like it could easily have been on the stage. One set and dense dialogue dominate this early part. A detective story then emerges that, while strong, is dwarfed by the movie's opening.

Gondo is an executive attempting to save his job from scheming corporate enemies. He morgates all he owns to buy a majority of the company. But then, a kidnapper nabs what is supposedly Gondo's son, but turns out to be another boy. Now Gondo is faced with a dilemma; pay the ransom and be ruined, or else keep the money and let the boy die. The decision is very complex, and the film is masterful at articulating the arguments on both sides. All of the characters approach the issue from a different perspective, often changing their own minds as more facts are made available. Kurosawa employs blocking in such clever ways, with each actor standing at various angles. Rarely do they stand face to face or look directly at the camera; everone is in their own world and literally views the scene from a different space. Everything about this opening gambit is masterful, and itself makes the film great.

The rest of the movie is all about trying to catch the kidnapper. Here, the story lingers on the intricacies of police work and tension building observation of the suspects. I don't mean to say that this part is bad, far from it. But it does feel well worn, in particular since police procedure, deciphering clues and the like are par for the course in many contemporary detective movies and tv shows. Kurosawa's approach is fresh and engaging, but after the movie's truly unique opening act this section seems less spectacular. It is slightly less than genius, not much of a critique.

The exploration of consequences to actions is well concluded in the final scene. Apparently, the alternative title for the film was Heaven and Hell. This movie is both entertaining and quite learned in its story development. Yet another piece of brilliance from Kurosawa.

Recommended very highly, in particular the opening third which compels multiple viewings.



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 12/12/2005 07:53:00 PM that...

I assume this is the Criterion version. I have been hesistant to pick this up because of sustained rumors of a new transfer from CC (rumors I beleive are true given CC is re-releasing Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Sanjuro). So, how is the transfer? Is the film in relatively bad shape?

This film marks a gapping hole in viewing the entire Kurosawa opus.  

Blogger maxwell noted on 12/13/2005 02:18:00 AM that...

I'm adding it to my must see list. Great review. I've only seen Kurosawa films that involve swords and betrayal and stuff, but this one looks good too.  

Blogger paroske noted on 12/13/2005 10:51:00 AM that...

I did some research Ron. It turns out this Criterion version makes a mistake that many TV version have. The movie is in black and white, except for one Schindler's List like (read, SS ripped this movie off) moment of color. This DVD gives that scene in black and white as well.

Still watchable, obviously, but not purchaseable.


Blogger ronvon2 noted on 12/14/2005 01:44:00 AM that...

Are these anti-Him comments?...and of all movies to criticize him on...Schindler's List. You realize that Omri has us hooked up to

But thanks for the heads up on H & L.  

Blogger paroske noted on 12/14/2005 03:37:00 PM that...

Look, all I said was that He ripped off Kurosawa (the other Him). That's not an indict; but AK did indeed do the color thing first.

Lucas ripped off AK too. That doesn't mean that Lucas is a bad director. Oh, wait, Lucas is a bad director . . .


Blogger ronvon2 noted on 12/14/2005 04:46:00 PM that...

I prefer the term "homage."

And Lucas was a great the 70s. As was Coppola.