Tuesday, June 8, 2010

High and Low (1963)

A movie like Akira Kurosawa's High and Low makes me yearn for a pre-home-video world, where you'd go out and see a movie like this with friends, then sit around all night talking about it. Still, in those days one had to depend on the luck of geography and circumstance to make that happen--and besides, this is a site devoted to instant access, immediate opportunity.

So get some friends together to watch High and Low--the more (post-viewing) talkative, the better.

In some ways, High and Low is Kurosawa's most "Shakespearean" film--even though he himself directed versions of Shakespeare plays: Macbeth in Throne of Blood, King Lear in Ran. But with High and Low (based on a crime novel by Ed McBain), Kurosawa follows the Shakespearean urge to explore the fullest range possible of human relationships within a single narrative. Kurosawa's film gladly accepts the burden of a dual plot and a host of characters to achieve this goal, and the result is a complex interweaving of the personal and the public, the idiosyncratic and the civic. Part exploration of class, part exposé of business, part police procedural, part family drama, part test of friendship--one could go on; suffice it to say that High and Low's title should tip you off that Kurosawa is shooting wide.

And speaking of shooting, this is also a gorgeous picture to look at, its black-and-white world belying the complexities of its characters' motives and trajectories. While Kurosawa shines in his "epics"--swords and flames, alarums and excursions for everyone--he also made a number of pictures that adapt the epic to living rooms and boardrooms, offices and back yards. With Ikiru--which I'll get to one of these days on this site--High and Low exemplifies Kurosawa's ability to see the struggle for heroism as everyone's challenge.

And by the way, make sure to watch this while the watchin's good: it seems that Mike Nichols is remaking it, with a David Mamet screenplay, so it may be pretty good--but I think you should first have Kurosawa in your head.

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