High and Low (1963) 4.71/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 89.9
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 143 mins
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Toshirô Mifune, Yutaka Sada, Tatsuya Nakadai 

One of the all time great thrillers, Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low is as comprehensive, meticulous, and masterful a nail-biter as the genre has given us. Toshirô Mifune stars as a powerful shareholder in a major shoe-making company who on the eve of a risky move to take over the company, is targeted by a kidnapper looking for a ransom. Unfortunately, for him, he’s leveraged himself to such an extent that to pay the ransom will mean financial ruin and unfortunately for the kidnapper, he kidnapped the chauffeur’s son by accident!

The first half of the film unfolds as a fascinating moral drama where Toshira’s Gondo sways between his dual determination not to give in to the ransomer and not to let anything happen to the child. The resolution is utterly gripping and peaks in a truly beautiful cinematic moment that sees both Mifune and Kurosawa at their magnificent best. But just when you think it cannot get any more tense, the police investigation begins in earnest, as the detectives demonstrate all the zeal and passion which Gondo’s sacrifice inspired within them. There has simply never been a better dramatisation of a manhunt and the forensic investigation involved as the great Tatsuya Nakadai runs his charges through the paces.

Kurosawa brings a broad array of style and technique to this sprawling film. The early parts of the film see clever use of set design and some wonderful staging to set the claustrophobic nature of the close drama. The manhunt is constructed with overlapping sequences and gently inserted flashbacks as the actions of the individual officers are recounted in systematic and startlingly clear fashion. Kurosawa blends it all together with the majesty of a great orchestra conductor so that the audience is kept perfectly up to speed despite the complexity of the investigation. Finally, the film moves assuredly into all the gritty splendor of the great films noirs as shadows and sound are fused in sublime fashion. The acting is immense too with Mifune revealing a vulnerable and layered character which grows progressively and at all times believably as the events unfold. Nakadai gives a reserved and intelligent performance as the lead detective and together they give Kurosawa’s deconstruction of integrity real substance.

High and Low is an intense and powerfully gripping film that towers head and shoulders over many of the countless movies to have tackled similar topics. As a mystery, crime thriller, and film-noir wrapped up in one package its not only astoundingly seamless but great value too!

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