Speakeasy has made her own list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2015, and we decided we'd try to simultaneously watch and review at least a couple of films from each other's lists. This plan will expose each of us to even more great movies and hopefully help us both stay on track reviewing the films steadily over the course of the year instead of watching half in December, as I tend to do!
The first film we watched in tandem was Akira Kurosawa's HIGH AND LOW (1963). You can read Kristina's take on the movie at Speakasy. It's a great review so be sure to check it out. We each responded strongly to many of the same things which was interesting too.
I was interested in HIGH AND LOW since seeing the poster at the upper left in Kristina's 10 Classics post. HIGH AND LOW, originally titled TENGOKU TO JIGOKU in Japan, is a suspense thriller/police procedural about a ransom case, and I couldn't be happier that I decided to watch it along with Kristina this weekend. It was absolutely terrific, one of the films I've enjoyed most so far this year. It's a great candidate for my 2015 "Favorite Discoveries" list.
That's only part of the story; the last two-thirds of the film is a riveting detective procedural as the local police force mobilizes to find the kidnapper. Tatsuya Nakadai plays Chief Detective Tokura, with additional detectives played by Kenjirô Ishiyama, Isao Kimura, Takeshi Katô, and Takashi Shimura.
This was such an excellent film, I suspect I will want to watch it again before too long in order to take in more of the details. The movie runs two hours and 23 minutes yet my attention didn't wane for a moment.
One of the things I loved most was the film's sleek black and white look -- other than one fantastic shot tinted in color. The movie was filmed by Asakazu Nakai and Takao Saito. In terms of both look and theme, the film reminded me somewhat of Blake Edwards' great film of the era about an extortion case in San Francisco, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962). The '60s era and polite yet savage business warfare also calls to mind TV's MAD MEN.
Mifune is excellent as a tough man who must make a life-changing decision in a short time frame. Does he take what might be a principled stand not to negotiate with a hostage taker -- despite the fact he was ready to ransom his own son -- and in so doing preserve his business and his family's lifestyle? Or should he risk everything to spare the life of a child?
One of my favorite scenes takes place at the police station, when various detectives stand up to report what they've learned, with brief flashbacks as they speak. It's a long yet beautifully managed sequence which somehow is downright exciting despite the fact it's basically just a large group of people giving reports.
Even the English title of the film is perfect, with its double meaning referring to searching high and low for the killer as well as the changes in Gondo's business and social status. The Japanese title apparently actually translates to HEAVEN AND HELL.
I was interested the Westernization depicted in the film; for instance, Gondo lives in a minimally furnished but very Western home. A standout piece of decor is a clock which plays Westminster Chimes. It was an interesting contrast with the films I've seen so far directed by Yasujiro Ozu, where Westernization is an ongoing theme yet most of the characters still live in homes which are more traditionally Japanese.
My only disappointment was the final scene, which was somewhat baffling -- but perhaps that was the point, that for some things there's no rhyme or reason.
As a side note, I often have difficulty with "child in danger" stories, but that aspect is handled with a light enough touch (i.e., no scenes with a child in terror) that I was fine with the film in that regard.
HIGH AND LOW is available on DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. I watched it via Amazon Instant Video streaming.
There's a Kurosawa film starring Mifune on my own 2015 10 Classics list, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958). But first, stay tuned for our reviews of Ernst Lubitch's THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (1932) at the end of the month!