Saturday, December 19, 2009

High and Low (1963) - Closure

Spanish film poster. (transl. "The Hell of Hatred")

A couple of days ago I wrote about my frustration about unsynchronized subtitles to the second half of this wonderful Akira Kurosawa film [post], and now I've finally managed to see all of it. And it got even better. Jesus Christ, this is one hell of a cool film! A new favorite of mine, and obviously the best of the Kurosawa films I've seen this far.

Don't the detective standing up look a lot like Tor Johnson

The famous color sequence. Don't get a copy without it -
you'll miss an important point in the plot.

Looking closer at Japanese cinema, and foreign films over all, is such a total opposite experience from the Hollywood films of the same era. Perhaps the difference lies in the restraints of Hollywood's film making, or perhaps in the different cultures in different parts of the world - whatever the reason, watching foreign films works as a real eye opener and the experience is satisfying in so many ways.

Take High and Low for an example. It's a really cool film, but not in the hard-boiled Hollywood way. The characters aren't one-dimensional, but the heroes are more like anti-heroes. And even though I would describe this film as a crime drama, the genre is difficult to determine. There is a lovely subtle humor slipping tough the tough facade regularly, scenes without dialogue supersede noisy nightclub scenes with jazz versions of O Sole Mio, and there is even shockingly frightening scenes in a dark alley full of drug addicts.
This film has it all, and the mix of totally opposite genre types is more than successful. It is grand.

And the actors? God Almighty, they are heavy. Speaking of the three main characters Gondo (Toshirô Mifune), Detective Tokura (Tatsuya Nakadai) and Ginjirô Takeushi (Tsutomu Yamakazi), they are all so genuine and realistic, yet dramatic. Just like the film itself manages to balance different styles, so do the actors manage to balance drama and realism. And yes, I am still violently in love with Tatsuya Nakadai.

With risk of repeating myself for the seventyeleventh time: this film is awesome. Just awesome. So awesome that I had to pause it several times to avoid exploding of excitement. I also had to pause it an additional time to phone my brother who like Kurosawa.

"Rubashov! (My nickname for him.) I'm watching this AWESOME movie! You just have to see it! A crime film! Kurosawa! Jazz music! And they are all so cool! Not Hollywood cool, but cool! Anti-hero cool! It's AWESOME!"
"Ehrm... I'm in the middle of a dinner with my girlfriend's parents now... but sure, I'll watch it. If I have the time."
"You have to! It's AWESOME!"


So there you have it. Now I think I have to go out on the balcony and cool off after this fantastic experience. There will definitively be more Kurosawa on this blog, that's for sure.

What IS her wearing? Japanese undercover cops are weird.

I found a trailer on YouTube for the film. As usual, the trailer is quite misleading and makes the film look like some Dirty Harry wannabe. But anyhow, it gives you some insight in what the film looks like:


Samuel Wilson said...

Lolita, I'm glad you finally got to finish High & Low and still liked it. I got to see it on a big screen in Boston not quite 15 years ago and it was a tremendous experience. If you like Kurosawa in modern dress (well, it was modern to him) you might also like The Bad Sleep Well, but just about any Kurosawa is good. Your point about experiencing foreign cinema is well made. When I watch non-American films, it shows me exactly how Hollywood limits itself in emotional or social range in a desire to be "cool." But when you see enough films from a given country you begin to see that culture's limits too.

Lolita said...

Samuel Wilson:
Wow, on a big screen? I'm jealous! I think I will buy the Criterion Collection edition of the film at least.
I guess your right about the restraints of foreign films that aren't noticeable before one is used to them. I know just too well about the restraints of Swedish cinema (mostly Hollywood-wannabe films nowadays, but anyway).
Thank you for the long comment!

Darsh said...

You might want to hold off on buying the DVD and wait for the Blu-Ray. Criterion has been releasing a lot of Blu-Rays lately (including two more Kurosawa's in March) and I would expect that they'll put this out on Blu-Ray within the next two years.

If you haven't yet seen the Blu for Clouzot's WAGES OF FEAR or Polanski's REPULSION then you should do so.

Lolita said...

Hmm... I don't think I can play Blu-Ray, but perhaps it's worth investing in. Thanks for the tip!
Rapulsion is one of my favorite thrillers (or what ever genre you would put it in), it's marvellous. Wages of Fear is however still unknown to me!

Darsh said...

Blu-Ray is definitely worth investing in! The best Blu-Ray player I've found is the Oppo BDP-83. It's amazing.

Here's my review of WAGES OF FEAR (1953):