Tuesday, September 2, 2008
While High and Low (1963, Criterion, $40, 143 minutes) a quiet, complex, but highly intense neo-noir is not an acknowledged masterpiece, it still shows one of cinema’s finest, Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, operating on all cylinders. The one and only Toshiro Mifune plays a heavily mortgaged old-school factory boss who is faced with the dilemma of opting to pay ransom for his chauffeur’s son, mistakenly kidnapped instead of his own. The film opens with a series of static scenes confined to Mifune’s elite high rise digs that play out with high import, but as the cops-and-robbers plot bleeds into a finely drawn character portrait and a simultaneous acute social commentary, the movie opens up and the pace quickens; the film’s formalized opening subtly nods to the staid Japan of old while the second half trips along the surface of a far more chaotic modern world. Kurosawa’s exposition is unbelievably crisp and the movie plays on with an artful wholeness, a genre piece that tip-toes through the rigidity and permutations of both Japanese contemporary culture and century-old codes while casting a gray shadow of moral complexity.