High and Low (1963) – A Quintessential Contrast Between the Rich and Poor

Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead • Screened at The Frida Cinema

Almost the entire first half of High and Low is void of music, composed of calm and collected room tone or dialogue set strictly in a mansion, while its second half is burdened into the busy noise and anxiety-presence of Japan. After a wealthy shoe company co-owner finds out that his work partner’s son has been kidnapped, expecting a high ransom from his money-fluid credence, he is put into what one could imagine a very antithetical situation that could either lean into the self or the righteous. This first half of High and Low is about a rich man’s moral development into coming to terms of doing the right thing, to contemplate both image and financial failure, but in the light of shedding wellness onto others who weren’t ever debated as values beforehand until being put into such a neck-tight situation. 

Akira Kurosawa seems to view chivalry as only something that could encourage collaboration from media watchers and those physically there to witness and help, posing an inspiring unity that admiration brings whether seen from a rich man or poor one. The procedural aspect of High and Low, with the many detectives and what have you who’re hunting down this mysterious kidnapper, is showcased in the movie’s second half with a more in-depth overview than most feature-length crime dramas I’ve seen. Therefore, we have time to truly emphasize this thrust of the movie. However, given the atmosphere Kurosawa is about to take us on in terms of the second half’s emphasis on the dependency of the poor, he begs of us to understand that this simplistic encouragement to help out should be applied to areas of its dying, highly populated city, not just to a one man’s ordeal. People need mawkish narratives in order to promote change.

Whenever Kurosawa takes us into the contrasts of location, he is continuously critiquing Japan’s dichotomy of the heaven and hell of the rich and poor. Besides the brilliant nightclub scene that visualizes how escapism hides us even when grim reality is happening all around, the best use of setting for me would have to be in the alleyway scene, where we are integrated into an overlooked care for heroin addicts as they’re abused by higher-class men as just soon-to-be evidence and pieces that could aid in their puzzles to solve a singular issue.

It’s interesting to think too how the minutest of details like accidentally mistaking a millionaire’s son’s friend for the actual son can change the entire face of media headlines and how people see the intentions of both the victim and the perpetrator, which sort of hits home that hatred of power shouldn’t primarily come from jealousy in privilege but only if that privilege is being misused, considering the kidnapper was proven wrong of how he initially saw such a wealthy man from making a simple mistake.

As far as it comes to the information we get on the antagonist at hand, it’s minimal but certainly enough. The final scene of High and Low showcases an everyday man who decided that his reason for living would become destroying those who he had seen as “truly living”. If you’ve convinced yourself that that’s the only way to make do of being poor, then well, hatred simply becomes your “living”. It seems that the nobody of Japan (our antagonist) needed a justification to live, so he used the blame of a wealthy visual icon that demeaned his existence and worked off of that. People will do the craziest things to gain the feeling that they in fact do finally have something to lose, and the higher you go up in the public eye, the more there is to mislay.

This is a side note, but you could probably write a compelling multi-page essay for each shot in this movie when it comes to its blocking, cause sheesh, is that aspect of this movie so blatantly profuse. 

Verdict: A+ 

Akira Kurosawa Ranked, My All-Time Favorite Movies

“High and Low” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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