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High and Low(1963)
An executive mortgages all he owns to stage a coup and gain control of the National Shoe Company, with the intent of keeping the company out of the hands of incompetent and greedy executives. He needs the same money, though, to pay the ransom that will possibly save a child's life. His resolution of that dilemma -- the certain loss of the company vs. the probable loss of the child -- makes for one distinct drama, and an ensuing elaborate police procedure makes for a second.
For more about High and Low and the High and Low Blu-ray release, see High and Low Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 25, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Kyôko Kagawa, Tatsuya Mihashi, Isao Kimura, Takashi Shimura
Director: Akira Kurosawa
» See full cast & crew
High and Low Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 25, 2011
Akira Kurosawa's "Tengoku to jigoku" a.k.a "High and Low" (1963) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features in the disc include Japanese and U.S. trailers for the film; episode of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create; rare video interview with actor Toshiro Mifune; video interview with actor Tsutomu Yamazaki; and audio commentary by Akira Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince. The disc also arrives with a 36-page illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien and on-set account by Japanese-film scholar Donald Richie. In Japanese, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
Wealthy industrialist Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo) hosts a casual board meeting in his posh home. He is invited to join the efforts to oust the president of National Shoes, a supposedly old-fashioned man. If the coup succeeds, the company will begin producing a new line of shoes – less durable but more profitable.
Gondo rejects the invitation and instead initiates a surprising takeover bid - after he mortgages practically everything that he owns. A few hours before the bid is finalized, a man (Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kagemusha, Departures) phones his house and demands a 30 million yen ransom for his kidnapped son. It turns out, however, that the kidnapper has mistakenly taken the son of his chauffeur, Aoki (Yutaka Sada, Throne of Blood, Hidden Fortress).
Gondo is faced with a difficult dilemma – if he pays the ransom, the bid will fail and he will lose everything; if he finalizes the bid, sooner or later the media will find out about the kidnapping and question his decision not to help one of his men, a move that will most certainly destroy his public image.
Based on Ed McBain's detective novel King's Ransom, Akira Kurosawa's High and Low (also known as Heaven and Hell) is a film of two contrasting halves. In the first, Gondo undergoes three major character transformations that are used by Kurosawa as pretext to deliver a strong social commentary on Japan's class system.
In the beginning, after he discovers that his son is safe, Gondo openly argues that paying the ransom would be a mistake. Here he is confident and willing to fight for what he believes in. After he realizes the negative role the media could play later on, however, his confidence begins to evaporate.
The second half of the film is about the opposite end of the dilemma. The kidnapper is quickly identified by an intelligent detective (Tatsuya Nakadai, Ran, Harakiri) and it is only a matter of time before he is captured. But High and Low is a not a whodunit affair, so the identity of the kidnapper is practically irrelevant. It is the world he belongs to – one that Gondo is completely unaware of – which the film focuses on.
The transition from Gondo's world into that of the kidnapper is marked by a pink trail of smoke – the only bit of color in the entire film. This is the point where the Gates of Hell open and Kurosawa's camera visits various slums and congested industrial areas.
High and Low is a beautifully lensed film. Even its most disturbing sequences look elegant. Light, shadow, movement, everything has a purpose, and there is always a sense of order.
High and Low was the first film in which Kurosawa used stereophonic sound – to enhance the presence of wind during one of the key scenes in the film where Gondo debates whether to pay the ransom or finalize his bid. Elsewhere in the film, an impressive miniature set with approximately 7,000 bulbs was used to imitate the night lights of the city where the kidnapper lives.
The use of music in the film is also unusual. Award-winning composer Masaru Sato's score blends jazz and electronica in a minimalistic score that enhances the film's noir atmosphere tremendously well.
Note: In 1963, High and Low was nominated for Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. A year later, the film won Best Film and Best Screenplay Awards at the Mainichi Film Concours.
High and Low Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Akira Kurosawa's High and Low arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"This high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit 4K Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive and, for the color sequence, a 35mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used from small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
Telecine supervisor: Lee Kline.
Telecine colorist: Josh Olive/Technicolor, New York."
I have mixed feelings about the presentation. Many of the outdoor sequences look notably stronger here than they do on Criterion's SDVD re-release of High and Low - they lack some but not all of the shimmering and plenty of the light noise (see screencapture #5). Though not overly consistent, there is also a layer of light grain that is present throughout the entire film. Unfortunately, traces of mild to moderate sharpening could be seen in a number of different scenes. Some of the most obvious ones are during the first half of the film, where Gondo is seen debating whether or not to pay the kidnapper. While at least some of the soft halo-like effects could be attributed to Kurosawa's experimentation with extremely bright lights, which is discussed in detail in one of the supplemental features included on the disc, it is fairly obvious that the overwhelming majority of the sharpening has a different origin (see screencapture #11). There are a couple of minor frame skips as well, though overall there are no serious stability issues to report in this review. Finally, the blacks have been boosted a bit, but color reproduction is satisfactory. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
High and Low Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The 4.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 4-track stems. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation."
The Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 track is solid. I ran a couple of quick tests with the SDVD release of High and Low and was immediately able to recognize the improved dynamic amplitude and depth of the loseless track (if you already have the SDVD, compare the bar scene in the final third of the film). Also, the dialog appears slightly crisper. For the record, I did not detect any problematic pops, cracks, or audio dropouts to report in this review.
High and Low Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
High and Low Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Akira Kurosawa's High and Low is an intense and beautifully lensed film that offers a fascinating commentary on modern Japanese society. Compared to previous releases of the film, Criterion's Blu-ray release is definitely a step up in quality, but it is not as impressive as their Blu-ray release of Masahiro Shinoda's Pale Flower. Nevertheless, this is an essential film to see and own. RECOMMENDED.
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