Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Japanese Neo-Noir

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.

1 comment:

mdoggie said...

Love this film - eerily poised between the conformity of the 50's and the soon-to-come free-spirit chaos of the 60's.
Be forewarned all of you under 40 viewers - it's a pre-MTV paced B&W slow burner. Do not expect epileptic cuts or pyrotechnics, just intense melodrama and superb acting chops.