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High and Low Blu-ray

Studio: Criterion

Oct 25, 2011 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Though known internationally as Heaven and Hell, the film’s American title High and Low is more reflective of its many highs and lows: art, classes, and physical spaces, not to mention the movie’s equally compelling text and subtext. Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 homage to film and literary noir centers on Kingo Gondo, a wealthy Japanese shoe executive who has just spent a fortune to buy control of his company. When he finds out that a man has inadvertently kidnapped his chauffer’s son instead of his, Gondo is faced with a moral decision of extreme proportions. And that’s just the film’s first half. Its remainder is devoted to the cat-and-mouse relationship between the police department and the idiosyncratic kidnapper, a slow but gripping chase that leads the viewer from drug dens to nightclubs, bullet trains to crowded city streets.

Visually rich but never ostentatious, Kurosawa’s suspenseful morality play looks stunning in Criterion’s new Blu-ray release. The film’s panoramic shots, even in stark black and white (not counting the movie’s famous single splash of color), are packed with modest spectacle, and Kurosawa, a master of staging, makes every inch count. Toshiro Mifune, most often seen in period dress in Kurosawa’s samurai films, brilliantly portrays Gondo as a man torn between financial and personal ruin, and Yutaka Sada, as Gondo’s chauffeur Aoki, is heart-wrenching as a panicked and helpless father. Though seemingly atypical of Kurosawa’s work, High and Low is every bit as ambitious and expertly crafted as his samurai epics.

Like most Criterion releases, this disc boasts a wealth of special features. These include a documentary showing the director’s highly specific vision, which required actor Tatsuya Nakadai to shave his hairline daily to resemble a balding Henry Fonda, and the construction of an elaborate miniature Yokohama cityscape, replete with a tiny model train. (www.criterion.com)

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