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HIGH AND LOW
1963 - Akira Kurosawa
Japan
85
Opening Shot

The opening titles display over top a series of high angle images of industrial Japan. We then see through a window of home which looks down upon the city. A man rises from his chair into towards the shadow where he walks to turn on a light. As he does a man enters the room and the men proceed to discuss business negotiations.

The Film

Legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's noirish High and Low is a brilliantly entertaining and piercing about a wealthy business man who is being black mailed by kidnappers who claim to have his son. When he discovers that they have mistakenly taken his chauffeur's son, he must decide whether to be financially broke or risk the life of a young child. This film is flawless. Flawlessly shot, paced, acted, and directed. There are also some very funny, very humane, and very intense scenes (junkie house, train sequence). And of course the ending is amazing and so oddly haunting it will surely remain in your mind a while after watching (it also gives further depth to the meaning of the film's layered title). High is Low seamlessly blends cinematic genres without resorting to tricks or without ever losing focus on the narrative. Of course Kurosawa has a great eye for camera framing and a great sense of human drama and suspense, here generated through his skillful use of the widescreen image. Kurosawa seems at his peak here as does his regular lead collaborator Toshiro Mifune in an unforgettable performance. Viewed as either a genre film or social commentary of contemporary Japan High and Low is an insightful, ambitious and even epic achievementthat I would consider Kurosawa's greatest film.

The Filmmaker

In terms of influence and respect, Akira Kurosawa rates alongside the most important and beloved filmmakers in the entire world. Kurosawa's praise is particularly strong with Western audiences where is influence is equally undeniable. Kurosawa began as a writer and assistant director in the 1930s before making his feature filmmaking debut with 1943's Judo Saga. He would continue making all types of different films (some of which were very good- notably 1949's simplistic noir Stray Dog, before reaching worldwide status and acclaim with the release of the groundbreaking 1950 masterpiece Rashomon. The film displays Kurosawa's ability with psychological human behavior as well as his visual precision. The narrative structure (which is equally effortless and complex) stands as a monumental achievement in film history and remains heavily influence today. From this moment on, Kurosawa was an international success and his popularity particularly grew with Westerns audiences. Kurosawa's most beloved and well-regarded feature is perhaps 1954's Seven Samurai, which is often citied among the greatest films of all-time. Starring his two definitive actors (Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune, who he collaborated with throughout his career) The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo are the films that probably most represent Kurosawa's beloved popularity and influence in the West (both films equally borrow and redefine the American Western film genre). To me, Kurosawa's greatest achievements as a filmmaker are his Shakespeare adaptations (1957's Throne of Blood and 1985's Ran). Ran is the definitive film of Kurosawa's career. It is a film he wanted to make his entire life, but wisely waited until he was older and the material became more personal. Ran sort of stands as the final statement of Kurosawa's themes and filmmaking style. It's spectacular and powerful and poetic and breathtaking in its philosophy and humanity. His last three features (Dreams, Rhapsody in August and Madadayo) are flawed but deeply personal and meditative reflections of themes he incorporated throughout his career (including humanity, nature, and death). Kurosawa's films sometimes tend to border on peachiness and sentiment yet there is no doubt they are effective and stand among the most influential and memorable. He was a master storyteller with a skillful visual craftsmanship and many of his films have been inspired or remade in all different forms. In 1990 Kurosawa earned an Honorary Oscar from the Academy and in 1999 (a year after his death) his native Japan finally honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

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