Wednesday, June 22, 2011

High and Low

For all of his movies about heroic samurai doing great things, my new favorite film by Akira Kurosawa begins with a scene where four business men discuss the future of women's shoes at their company. Obviously it goes a lot of different place from there, but I just thought that was a humorous image. High and Low is about a kidnapping, the ransom of the child, and the subsequent police pursuit of the perpetrator. It is also simply one of the best crime movies I've ever seen, and easily the best example I've yet seen of something resembling film noir that isn't American.

Toshiro Mifune plays a manager at the shoe company who has been attempting to obtain enough stock to take control before his rivals do, borrowing against everything he has to pay for it. His plans go awry though when he gets a call that his son has been kidnapped. In truth it was actually the son of his driver, but the kidnapper doesn't care, and he has a choice. Either he can pay the ransom and lose everything he invested, or refuse and run the risk that the kid gets killed. A huge portion of the movie takes place just in his living room, as he weighs his options, struggles with the decision, and talks with the police. The leader of the investigation is played by Tatsuya Nakadai, and while neither actor is quite at their most intense in their roles, it's still fun to see them together on screen. The movie eventually changes locations when the exchange is supposed to take place, and from there the story shifts gears away from the internal struggle of before and into a full-scale manhunt by the police force, galvanized by the public support for Mifune after his sacrifice.

It's not exactly a particularly original investigation, though it's hard to say how innovative some of the steps they took would have been when it came out fifty years ago. It's just an exceptionally well handled plot, which effectively uses a lot of the style that Kurosawa was known for the draw you in better than that stuff typically does for me. Some scenes are very long and really get into the fine detail of the investigating and tracking down of leads that goes on, which engrossed me in the manhunt and made every step towards finding the kidnapper feel like a victory. The kidnapper himself is show repeatedly to the audience, and I think they could have used this time a bit more to develop him into a person, but as it stands he's still a suitable villain, and the final scene of the movie that he's in is an amazing one. It's hard to point to one thing in High and Low and say that it's why it worked. Really, it's just a film that is executed proficiently and skillfully on every level.

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