Running Time: 143 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/R, probably PG
Format: Widescreen 2.35:1
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Region: 1
MSRP: $39.95

Own It!
High and Low - Criterion Collection (1963)

One of Akira Kurosawa's classic dramas, High and Low follows an unusual kidnapping case. Gondo (the great Toshiro Mifune) is an executive at a shoe company who is so aggressive that he makes Gordon Gecko look like Pee-Wee Herman. He's about to make a risky and expensive attempt to take over the company he works for when he receives a phone call telling him that his son has been kidnapped. In fact, it turns out that Gondo's son is fine, because the kidnapper accidentally snatched Gondo's chauffeur's son. Even so, the kidnapper still wants the ransom, the ridiculous sum of thirty million yen. And so Gondo has to decide if he's going to pay someone else's ransom, even though it will destroy him financially.

The kidnapping itself is resolved in the first hour, and Mifune practically disappears from the movie. The second half of the film follows the police investigation into the crime in clinical detail. We see every clue, even the ones that go nowhere, until the kidnapper is found.

High and Low shows Kurosawa as a supreme observer of social behavior. We see the many classes of Japanese society, from the rich industrialists down to dope addicts. Kurosawa also shows his usual flair for style. The first half of the film, which takes place almost completely in Gondo's living room, is very much like a stage play. But once we leave the house, impatient hand-held cameras follow the action. The concept of the film is engrossing, and there are many genuine plot twists before the film reaches its conclusion. This is Kurosawa at his best.

Criterion's DVD of High and Low is significantly washed out for the entirety of the running time. Moreover, there is a lot of NTSC artifacting (those weird moving patterns that occur when your TV is asked to render closely parallel lines) which probably could have been taken care of with a better mastering job. This is particularly distracting in the film's dramatic last scene, which is shot entirely through the metal mesh in a prison visiting room.

Kurosawa shot this movie wide, so wide that the overscan on my TV became an issue. Using my computer's screen-capture, I measured the aspect ratio of the image at 2.32:1, though on my TV, it appeared closer to 2.20:1. This probably wouldn't have been noticeable in most movies, but Kurosawa has composed a bunch of shots in the film's first hour with people talking to each other from the extreme edges of the frame. On my monitor, it looked crowded.

The sound is mono, but fine. There are legible subtitles in English that appear on the lower matte.

There are no extras. This title is long overdue for a price drop to $29.99 like the rest of Criterion's discs that don't have any extras.

Scott Hamilton, 4/17/00