High and Low/A,C+

Image/19/143m/WS 2.35

      Kurosawa’s masterful kidnapping procedural is brought to DVD in a widescreen 2.35 edition that preserves the impeccable compositions that are hallmarks of Kurosawa films. High and Low stars Toshiro Mifune as shoe executive Kingo Gondo, forced to pay a huge ransom to a kidnapper who has abducted his chauffeur’s son by mistake. Functioning on several layers in its examination of Japanese society, Kurosawa examines the conflict of values inherent in the modern business world with traditional Japanese values. It is also an extraordinary look at how people function in the pressure cooker.

Gondo ponders the alternatives. ©Voyager

      Mifiune is amazing. Kurosawa's favorite star, he dons businessman's attire as comfortably as samurai armor. The actor's expressive face is a director's dream. Brooding, thoughtful as Gondo,  Mifune makes us sympathize with his predicament. It's a fascinating performance. Opposite Mifune as Inspector Tokura is Tatsuya Nakadai. He's a study in contrast to Mifune. An icy stare often creates a feeling of indifference in his characters, but Kurosawa uses the actor brilliantly. Tokura lays out the situation with dispassionate precision, emphasizing the chasm Gondo must straddle to retain his business.  
     High and Low plays out mostly in the confines of the luxurious Gondo apartment overlooking the city. Setting plays an important part in the film. The cramped quarters act as a vise on Gondo, as the pressure builds. The camera work of the city includes one startling effect, borrowed by Stephen Spielberg in Schindler's List, but used to perfection by Kurosawa.
     Kurosawa's rhythms are superb. The intercutting between the kidnapper and victims builds tension, just as the music by Masaru Sato underscores the powerful drama. The script, based on Ed McBain's novel "King's Ransom," is tightly constructed by Kurosawa and a trio of collaborators. Ron Howard the Mel Gibson vehicle Ransom from the same material, but it's beefed up with action to suit the star. Kurosawa's lean, thoughtful, and penetrating film is the definitive extract of McBain's work.
     The chief problem on this transfer appears to be that it was either taken from a composite master or was not transferred from film with proper 2/3 pulldown. The result is horizontal line break out and excessive aliasing. Check out the final scene at the prison. The mesh screen and bars are jumping all over the place. There is also significant transitional shadow around the characters. Its quite prominent around the black hair of the Japanese against lighter backgrounds. Otherwise, the contrast levels are very powerful and the widescreen images are quite clean. The image is consistently sharp, perhaps somewhat overenhanced, exacerbating the ringing and aliasing problems. Recorded in Dolby Digital 1 channel audio, the sound is slightly lower than expected. It is clean and free of hiss.

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