High and Low is a Japanese crime drama directed by the renowned Akira Kurosawa. The movie is black and white and takes place in the early 1960s. It is about a wealthy corporate boss who must choose between saving his company and paying the ransom for his chauffeur’s kidnapped child. Kurosawa uses his brilliant visual style to reinforce the film’s sociological themes.
I became interested in the film because it was shot in Yokohama, my current hometown. It was interesting to see how the city has changed over the past 40 to 50 years since the film was made. Some of the landmarks still remain, such as Marine Tower and Yamashita Park, but the Yokohama of the 60s was a much more gritty and crime ridden than it is today – almost a whole different world. Toward the end of the film, Kurosawa brings the audience into a disturbing scene in an area of Yokohama called Koganecho where drug junkies and prostitutes hang out for their next fix, something I never knew existed in Japan in that era. Kurosawa does an excellent job in showing the class distinction in post-war Japan and the dichotomies in how the high and low classes lived at the time. Fortunately, Japan has achieved a much more egalitarian society over the ensuing 40 years since this film was made, but unfortunately, my general sense is those gains are beginning to retreat as Japan grows into a society where wealth is concentrated with the elite few.
The movie is a bit lengthy, 2 hours and 23 minutes, and is available on DVD and “Watch Instantly” from Netflix. Recommended if you enjoy foreign films and are interested in Japanese studies.