High and Low (1963)
[Tengoku to jigoku]
directed by Akira Kurosawa
Frames in this review are taken from the Criterion DVD released in 1998.
This is a series of two articles. The
second article compares this film with its source material, Ed
McBain’s detective novel King’s Ransom.
Akira Kurosawa is often mentioned in film critique as a Japanese director
who was too Western to be successful in his own country. This might seem
strange, for his best-known works are largely set in Medieval Japan —
Yojimbo. Some of them are based on works of Shakespeare,
but the the settings are unmistakably Japanese and the themes are surely
universal. In addition, several of his samurai adventures were later
remade into Hollywood or spaghetti westerns, but you can’t blame that on
High and Low, one of his less well-known films, supplies an
explanation. Although it is set in bustling Tokyo, the film’s atmosphere
comes practically right out of film noir Los Angeles. There are
beachfront locations, remote hideaways, kidnapping plots, corporate power
plays over a company that makes women’s high heels, and even little kids
playing with cowboy hats and toy revolvers! What's more, the film is
based on an American crime novel, Ed McBain's
King's Ransom. Shakespeare in a Japanese setting is high art,
but adapting an American detective thriller?!