Saturday, August 20, 2011

High and Low. A-

It's unclear at first what Akira Kurosawa's interests and goals are in High and Low, for he changes the movie drastically half way through. It begins as a dramatic moral thriller about a shoe company executive, Gondo, forced to decide if his dreams of a great business should trump the life of young kidnapped boy. The kidnapper intends it to be Gondo's son, but, in a classic gaffe, accidentally snatches the wrong kid. Unaware at first, Gondo and his wife are prepared to give up anything for their son's safe return. Yet when they find out their son is safe and that his young friend is the unlucky victim, Gondo suddenly is reluctant to give up the money the kidnapper his demanding. The first hour of the film takes place in Gondo's house, and I began to wonder if the entire movie would be in that one, claustrophobic location. But then Gondo decides to cooperate with the kidnapper (the plan is to throw the money off a train in a brilliantly constructed sequence) and here the movie could go back into Gondo's personal life and how his sacrifice affects his entrepreneurial pursuits. But instead Kurosawa turns to the police and scrutinizes the process of them tracking down the kidnapper. It becomes a masterpiece of detective fiction, no longer a personal story but a richly detailed inspection of a police case. Dispersed throughout the remaining hour of the film is the continuation of Gondo's story, and I suppose in the end it is about him. The only problem is that it seems more keen on solving the case than watching Gondo's dilemma unfold. And if there's a weakness to High and Low it's that it doesn't have the focus of Kurosawa's best films. Here's a director with as many great pictures as anyone, and if there's a distinct quality to his body of work it's that his movies all have a strong sense of identity. High and Low is maybe his most uneven project because it wants to be a great detective movie and a moral drama but never smoothly merges the two together. Still, the risks Kurosawa takes are really interesting, and while it may diminish some of the dramatic effects, the craft of the film is unquestionably impressive.

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