Friday, March 12, 2010

Classic Rewind: 'High and Low' (1963)

I've always considered Kurosawa's filmography to be of two halves - his Shakespearean period-samurai films contrasting with his contemporary musings on society - and High and Low certainly falls squarely into the latter group as his sharpest and most inspired.

Through a botched kidnapping and the subsequent quest to rescue the victim and track down the perpetrator, Kurosawa uses the platform to wind together and compose a sprawling work on class-differences, corporate greed and moral turbulence.

What's always gotten me though is Kurosawa's brilliant two-act structure, which follows Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) as he attempts to deal with and come to terms with his options - pay the ransom or follow-through on his scheming buyout of the National Shoe Company - while the second half pivots and turns into a thoroughly effective David Fincher-esque police procedural.

As the final scene approaches - our ethically-tested Gondo and our guilty-as-charged criminal architect face-to-face, separated by a thin wire barrier - it feels like a crime-epic crescendo along the lines of Heat or The Dark Knight. The difference is Kurosawa's social relevancy, which elevates this thriller into a pointed examination of contemporary Japanese culture. As Stanley Kubrick would say - rich or poor, good or bad, high or low, "they are all equal now."

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