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High and Low [Criterion Collection] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24
  • Audio Codec: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: A (Region-Locked)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Blu-ray Release Date: July 26, 2011
  • List Price: $39.95

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High and Low - Widescreen

Purchase High and Low [Criterion Collection] on Blu-ray at CD Universe

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Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:3.5/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:4/5]

While it may not be one of his absolute masterworks, High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku) is nonetheless a prime example of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s filmmaking prowess, directed with every bit of aplomb and tedious attention to detail as every one of his other films. The 1962 thriller is Kurosawa’s only film taken from an American work, Ed McBain’s “87th Precinct” novel The King’s Ransom (1959). McBain also happens to be the writer of the screenplay for The Birds, which is fitting when one watches High and Low and sees the almost Hitchcockian camera angles, attention to light, dark, and, most of all, the building up of tension throughout the story arch, particularly in the famous bullet train scene, also noted for its brilliant flash of color through the use of pink smoke bombs, the only color in this black and white film.

Taking only the narrative from the McBain novel, the story of a wealthy businessman who is contacted by kidnappers to pay a ransom for his son only to find out later that the kidnappers have taken his employee’s son by mistake, Kurosawa flips McBain’s story about the triumph of rugged individualism around, instead crafting a tale where the individualism of the protagonist is in part a key to his undoing.

Kingo Gondo, played wonderfully by Toshirô Mifune, is concocting a scheme to take over the shoe company he is working for, no longer satisfied with the direction the corporation is taking, so he has mortgaged everything to come up with the millions he needs to secretly acquire a majority share. That’s when the call comes in from kidnappers demanding a ransom for his son; a ransom so high it will practically ruin him. But, the kidnappers have made an error; they’ve taken his employee’s son by mistake. They demand the ransom anyway, appealing to Gondo’s sense of honor. Now Gondo is caught between wanting to do the right thing, the pressure of his wife to save his employee’s son, Chief Detective Tokura (Tatsuya Nakadai) who wants to use him to help capture the kidnappers, and his own desire to keep his money to take over the company. Therein lies the crux of the tense drama that defines High and Low – Gondo’s dilemma of whether to take his money and use it to his own benefit or to save the life of a child that isn’t even his own and the parallel police procedural, intricate and detailed, to catch the perpetrators of this vile deed.

Where High and Low begins with an intense flush of emotion and high drama, it begins to fizzle out just a tad after the first half of the film, making it one of the few times where Kurosawa’s tendency toward drawing out the length of his films perhaps worked to a disadvantage in this instance. High and Low might have benefited from being skimmed down to a cool 2-hours or less, but it is still quite an interesting film to take in.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The high definition digital transfer of High and Low was created on a Spirit 4K Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive and, for the color sequence, a 35mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.

I’d say that this AVC/MPEG-4 1080p/24 encodement of High and Low from Criterion looks just shy of perfect given its age and obvious defects. There are some spots where the picture wavers into softness and a few places where some scratches can be seen, but overall clarity is strong and it maintains a solid, film-like appearance straight through with little electronic noise in the grainy areas. Blacks are nice and deep while shadow detail is rather extended as well.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4/5]

The 4.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 4-track stems. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

The Japanese language track shows up in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 encodement from Criterion that sounds clean and believably dynamic. The surround channels provide a a decent amount of ambience, but not a “modern” discrete sort of mix.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:3.5/5]

While Stephen Price’s detailed and scholarly audio commentary that offers insight right down to the reasoning behind certain camera angles and framings in certain scenes is a must and the continuing series It is Wonderful to Create from Toho Masterworks is also well worth watching, the interview segments with actors Toshiro Mifune and Tsutomu Yamazaki put this supplemental package over the top. Of course, the superb reading in the booklet is always another reason to pick up any Criterion release as well.

The supplements provided with this release are:

  • Audio commentary recorded for the Criterion Collection in 2008 featuring film historian Stephen Price, author of The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa and professor of film studies at Virginia Tech.
  • Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create (1.33:1; 00:37:02) – This thirty-seven-minute documentary about the making of High and Low is part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create. The program includes interviews with director Akira Kurosawa; actors Tatsuya Nakadai, Kyoko Kagawa, Takeshi Kato, and Tasuya Mihashi; script supervisor Teruyo Nogami; cameramen Takao Saito and Masahuru Ueda; and other cast and crew.
  • Toshiro Mifune (1.33:1; 00:30:31) – Actor Toshiro Mifune shares stories about his life and acting career with popular TV talk-show host Tetsuko Kuroyannagi. The interview was recorded in 1981 for her show Tetsuko no heya (Tetsuko’s Room) and is presented here courtesy of TV Ashai.
  • Tsutomu Yamazaki (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:19.05) – Interview with award-winning actor Tsutomu Yamazaki, who plays the kidnapper, Takeuchi, in High and Low, recorded for the Criterion Collection in Tokyo in 2008.
  • Trailers:
    • Japanese Trailer
    • Japanese Teaser
    • U.S. Trailer
  • Booklet: Illustrated booklet featuring the essay “Between Heaven and Hell” by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien and an on-set account of High and Low by Japanese film scholar Donald Richie, plus film credits, and information on the transfer.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

High and Low represents another beautiful rendering of a must-own Kurosawa work on Blu-ray from the wizards at Criterion. The film looks breathtaking for its age and comes wrapped up in a premium package with exclusive interviews and essays that are informative and interesting.

Additional Screen Captures


[amazon-product]B004WPYO3I[/amazon-product]

BestBuy.com:
High and Low - Widescreen

Purchase High and Low [Criterion Collection] on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:3.5/5]

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