As much as I love the films of Akira Kurosawa I admit that outside of Ikiru it is actually rather difficult to go ahead and pinpoint every last thing about his work that continues to reaffirm why I love spending time with cinema in the first place. High and Low was one that I found rather difficult to talk about on one viewing alone, and I would have thought on another visit it would be easier to pinpoint everything but instead it was actually a more difficult task as the thoughts kept shrouding my head as I was falling in love with the film even more. In fact, I’ve already grown to convince myself that alongside Ikiru, Seven Samurai, and Rashomon, High and Low belongs on such high a level as it is easily one of the director’s most undervalued masterpieces.
For Kurosawa it’s not about how he is telling his audiences what we see on the outside as a detective story, but where he displays the state that these men are finding themselves in and then transferring that feeling onto the audience members. High and Low on the outside is a film that is indeed about search for a kidnapped child but the fact that every emotion on the screen feels so tight is where the effectiveness of such a film comes into play.
Within the small details to emotion that start up the intense feeling that Kurosawa is capturing for High and Low then comes a moment in which we see, as I have noted, our old detective story coming along. Yet like the emotions to the characters as Kurosawa breaks them down there is so much detail placed into how he shows us these men going on with the procedural. Such details are hard to find in many other detective films before and afterwards, even the best that we can get in recent years I feel doesn’t even manage to lay a finger on the impact that High and Low has formed, it is simply incredible.
Yet at the same time there’s also a feeling of deconstruction present. It’s one thing to admire Akira Kurosawa for placing some form of social commentary into his work, notably in Ikiru. But then there’s something even the title of the film can imply. In Japanese the title is Tengoku to Jigoku, which translates out to “heaven and hell.” But then the implication becomes easier to note in the English translation, High and Low, because there’s a noticeable change within the social class of the backgrounds of each act of the film. It took me a few viewings, but eventually I came to see that Kurosawa’s commentary of social class would set such a high standard for his own body of work and it shocks me that this entry is not discussed to the same degree we know some more of the best such as Seven Samurai or Rashomon are.
The storytelling that Kurosawa presents here is also something which is beyond incredible, as he may arguably be the finest one of his own kind. Slowly racking up on emotion and then unleashing some extremely clever social commentary and deconstruction within what on the outside appears to be a detective story, what Kurosawa presents us with High and Low is not only the best police procedural film of all time but also something so intricately detailed from beginning to end, it is none other than a masterpiece to be seen by film lovers of all sorts.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Janus Films.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay by Eijiro Hisaita, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, from the novel King’s Ransom by Ed McBain
Produced by Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Tomoyuki Tanaka
Starring Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Kyoko Kagawa
Release Year: 1963
Running Time: 143 minutes