Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘High and Low’ is still high quality on its 60th anniversary

Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 film challenges the viewer
Courtesy of IMDB.

“High and Low,” also known as “Tengoku to jigoku,” was released on March 1, 1963 in Japan. The film, directed by Akira Kurosawa, is a dark thriller similar to the work of Fritz Lang and David Fincher. It is suspenseful, thrilling, dramatic, challenging and chilling. The film adaptation of the novel, by Ed Mcbain, is called “King’s Ransom,” and is available to watch on HBO Max.

The film follows a businessman, Kingo Gondo (Toshiru Mifune), and his family as they become victim to a criminal scheme. While watching, I remember genuinely feeling like I was unsure what was going to happen next due to the constantly twisting narrative. It’s an experience I hope other viewers can have, so go in with an open mind.

Toshiro Mifune’s performance in “High and Low” is subdued, while in his other films, he’s usually loud, outspoken and exuberant.

The audience doesn’t get to spend much time with Mifune’s character alone, so there is less attention given to his internal dialogue. Instead, there are often many characters in the frame at once. On a technical level, this minimizes cuts and creates multiple points of interest in the same shot. It feels like the audience is standing in the same room as he characters, which adds an extra layer of immersion and suspense into the film.

The film proposes challenging questions about how society values human life and family. Mifune plays a moral businessman, who values his family despite working in the corporate world. With commentary on how some companies are making products less durable so that they sell more, “High and Low” critiques how society sets moral behavior as contrary to financial success and how human life is often valued less than financial gain.

The film is shot in an impressive high-contrast black and white. In traditional black and white noir films, the ratio of black to white in the frame is slanted heavily towards black. In this film, there is a massive amount of white in the frame from the modern house, creating a distinct contrast that sets it apart from other films.

Despite its success, the film is not flawless. It would have made for a more emotional payoff if the second half of the film further explored Gondo’s family and personal character. There are also issues with the portrayal of certain characters in the last thirty minutes of the film, but perhaps this is the point: society overlooks and disregards certain people based on socioeconomic status.

Despite its flaws, “High and Low” is still highly regarded in the film industry. There were various attempts at an American remake of the film by various directors. Recently, “The Batman” likely drew  inspiration from “High and Low,” due to its similar themes and cinematography. In addition, “Parasite” was partially inspired by “High and Low,” which director Bong Joon Ho acknowledged. If you are a fan of classic film noir and want a dark, chilling film experience, you’re going to enjoy the suspenseful narrative of “High and Low.”

Scott Lerer can be reached at [email protected].

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