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.


25. “Harakiri”, Masaki Kobayashi (1962)

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


Harakiri aka 切腹 or Seppuku 

dir. Masaki Kobayashi scr. Shinobu Hashimoto cin. Yoshio Miyajima with Tatsuya Nakadai, Shima Iwashita, Akira Ishihama, Yoshio Inaba

In 100 words: From the stately camera movements, to the glorious use of space, to its suitably eerie soundtrack, to its perfect editing, and ultimately its rigorous performers, Harakiri stands well above its genre’s other mainstays, in terms of its sheer technical proficiency and its damning sociopolitical context. Kobayashi’s highly involving story, from its austere beginnings, to its epic finish, condemns Japanese obsession with bushido and the code of honor. It then throws bushido’s hypocrisy to its face and upends the notional belief that the life of a samurai is honorable. Hard to deny it its rightful place as among the finest films ever.

Other Movies for Context: I love love love this movie. Kobayashi’s movie is the best samurai film I’ve ever seen, and that includes the Kurosawa samurai movies, like Seven Samurai (1954) which suffers from its laborious attempt to put together a team (highly overrated I think), Throne of Blood (1957), which is maybe Kurosawa’s best samurai movie since it’s an adaptation of Macbeth, and Kagemusha (1980), which is more pretty than actually interesting. Takashi Miike remade this movie in 2011 in 3-D.