20. “High and Low”, Akira Kurosawa (1963)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

High and Low

High and Low aka 天国と地獄 or Tengoku to Jigoku, literally “Heaven and Hell”

dir. Akira Kurosawa scr. Ryuzu Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, Eijiro Hisaita, and Akira Kurosawa based on the novel King’s Ransom by Ed McBain cin. Asakazu Nakai and Takao Saito with Toshiro Mifune, Kyoko Kagawa, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tatsuya Mihashi, Yutaka Sada, Tsutomo Yamazaki

In 100 words: This is Kurosawa’s best: his most inventive, tense, and intelligent film, featuring Mifune’s best performance, the director’s most jawdropping shots, and his most potent sociopolitical message. All within the confines of a procedural! The film strips back the things that make his most well-known films so distinctive: the music, letting his images and sound of objects sustain the tension and his setpieces are less painterly and more barren, almost highlighting the gulf of difference between Gonzo and the rest. But it’s in his blocking, his mise-en-scene, his camerawork, his editing and pacing, that makes this the masterpiece it really is.

Other Movies for Context: Kurosawa is a legend, but I’ve never seen a film by his that feels this tightly constructed and this tense or this propulsive. None. Other movies by him that I enjoyed include Rashomon (1950), which basically put him on the international map, and Ran (1985), his most painterly film ever.

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