High And Low
R1 - America - Criterion Collection
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (29th September 2008).
The Film

If there’s any one Japanese director that is known in the mainstream to most people (or film fans anyway) it’s Akira Kurosawa, Japan’s most prolific and influential filmmaker. His filmography covers a wide range of genres from social dramas to samurai films to thrillers etc. “High and Low” is one of the filmmaker’s thrillers, structured like a 2-act play and chronicling the tense period in a family’s life as they deal with a kidnapper extorting money from them.

“High and low” begins as a taunt kidnapping thriller focused on a wealthy family, the director of a shoe company, Kingo Condo (Toshirô Mifune) targeted. A kidnapper has snatched his son, but as it turns out he made a mistake and actually took Condo’s driver’s son. The dilemma faced is that although the Kidnapper finds out his mistake he still requests the ransom. A sum that could potentially put Condo into a serious debt, the problem being is that Condo needs that money to gain control over the shoe company, which he works for. Kurosawa crafts an excellent first half as Condo struggles to make a decision about the ransom, leaving the viewer to question whether the boy will be returned safely. Further to this, the police’s investigation, which serves to help may put the whole deal in jeopardy if the kidnapper discovers their involvement. All this tension and wonderful character play between the actors is lost in the film’s second half.

For those that haven’t seen the film I’d suggest you stop reading because we’re about to enter spoiler territory. Once the ransom is paid and the child returned the film then transitions into a police procedural that drags the film down as the police spend their time trying to find the kidnapper (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and return the money to Mr. Condo making it about 40 minutes longer than it really needed to be.

The process of finding the child and the kidnapper’s takes viewers into the Japanese investigative measures and also depict an interesting look at Japanese society and how it deals with these issues, however although this can be interesting it takes too long to come to any conclusion. I was content for Kurosawa to remain with the family, but “High and Low” feels like two different films meshed together and I get a sense that the director couldn’t decide which story to tell, because as we get into the second half of the film the family drama no longer matters because we really don’t see them anymore.

The film offers some fine performances from its cast, although they can be very over-stylised theatrical performances with dialogue delivered in a stereotypical angry tone. Mifune again proves he’s a versatile performer taking Condo and his counterpart in Kyôko Kagawa is equally impressive even though she plays a fairly typical Japanese housewife of the 60's.

“High and Low” is worth exploring for fans of Japanese cinema or Kurosawa’s work, but I felt that it wasn’t as strong as his other classic productions mainly because of the 2-act structure of the film and it’s length which overstays its welcome near the end.

Video

Presented at a ratio of 2.35:1 this anamporphic transfer has been given a sprucing up, this newly minted release cleans up a lot of the problems from the previous single disc release of the title and also adds a miuch needed anamorphic enhancement. Before getting into the nitty gritty of this transfer, it must be said that there's some confusion about the film's original ratio. Criterion maintain that it's 2.35:1 however other sources including the British Film Institute (BFI) maintian it's closer to 2.55:1. Having not seen this film framed at 2.55:1 I've only got this Criterion version to go by and the framing looks very good to me. Further to this the black and white picture is well balanaved with nice contrast between the shades. The image is mostly clean although a few specs can still be seen. The film's grain content is heavy at times but never distracting and is part of the film stock, so its nice that Criterion didn't try and remove it digitally. Overall it's a fine presenation for this classic Japanese film.

Audio

The Criterion Collection have included a single audio track in Japanese Dolby Digital 4.0 surround, the original release was in 1.0 mono, but this new edition has been given new life with this 4.0 mix. The film's dialogue is clean and distortion free and the film's music comes across well, there's little depth and range but the important thing is that the sound is clean, which it is.
Optional subtitles are included only in English.

Extras

The Criterion Collection have included a decent amount of extras that include an audio commentary, a documentary, two interviews a series of theatrical trailers and a booklet. Below is a closer look at these supplements broken down per disc.

DISC ONE:

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by film scholar Stephen Prince. As expected from Criterion they have provided an excellent and rivetting track that covers a vast amount of history about the production. He provides a thoughrough examination of the film, it's structure, the story elements, the cast, the shooting among other things. He tends to fluxutate from technical aspects of the production to the people involved but does so without loosing the viewer. It's evident that Price cherishes Kurosawa's work and his enthusiasm is felt in this track. It's a joy to listen to and even though the film runs a bit long I didn't mind it and wished this track could have gone on for much longer.

DISC TWO:

Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create” is a documentary runs for 37 minutes 1 seconds, this feature was created by the Toho Masterworks Series and chronicles the making of the film. It's a retrospective look back at the production and features a lot of background about the production and its filming process among other things.

Next up is a 1981 interview with actor Toshirô Mifune conducted for Japanese TV and runs for 30 minutes 29 seconds. What is immediatley wonderful about this clip is that the Japanese actor rarely did any interviews so having this on the disc is a treat indeed. Kudos to Criterion for tracking this down. In this clip the actor comments on his childhood, his career, working with Kurosawa among other things. It's a facinating clip.

Following that is a new 2008 interview with actor Tsutomu Yamazaki which runs for 19 minutes 3 seconds. In this clip takes the time to talk about his career, working with Kurosawa and also on his experince in making this film.

There are also a series of theatrical trailers which include the original Japanese theatrical trailer that runs for 3 minutes 36 seconds, the original Japanese teaser trailer that runs for 1 minute 52 seconds and finally the original U.S. theatrical trailer that runs for 1 minute 41 seconds.

Finally rounding out the extras is a 36-page liner notes booklet featuring:

- "Between Heaven and Hell" an essay by Geoffrey O'Brien.
- "On The Set of High and Low" article by Donald Richie from a 1963 issue of "Films and Filming."

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: A Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: B-

 


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