High and Low

High and Low ★★★★

It's amusing to make the fortunate taste the same misery as the unfortunate.

Had been circling this one for a while, finally got a hold of the Criterion Blu-ray, which has an incredibly sharp B&W transfer. This is right up there with Ikiru and Seven Samurai for me. On paper, it really shouldn't work as well as it does. There's no singular, charismatic detective. There's no mystique surrounding the criminal. The child is released unharmed, while Mifune's character is hardly a sympathetic figure, at least in the early part of the film. Yet it somehow ends up sucking you in. Hitchcock obviously comes to mind when watching this, but Kurosawa focuses on the police perspective much more than Hitchcock liked to, and by extension, this film goes way deeper into the weeds, never more so than in a scene at the precinct that involves a series of two-man teams going over, in granular detail, their recent findings relating to various aspects of the case. It certainly risks boring people but for fans of procedurals it's gold. Kurosawa's mastery of blocking is as evident here as it is in Seven Samurai. The first part of this takes place almost exclusively in Gondo's spacious living room, with Kurosawa using every bit of the wide frame, sometimes arranging a half a dozen or more actors, all of whom are reacting to everything. He works really well in contained spaces. I actually found myself hoping the film would stay there for as long as possible. Mifune, no surprise, another phenomenal performance. The man was just a force of nature. The final conversation between Gondo and his extortionist at the prison is really cool. It's shot reverse shot, but when one is speaking, we see the other's face reflected on the glass so they're side by side. Just as the condemned man is explaining that it was the distance between them that drove him to do what he did.

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