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High and Low: Mifune’s Penultimate Appearance

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    High and Low would prove to be Mifune’s penultimate appearance in a Kurosawa film-his last, rather famously, was in Red Beard.

    By High and Low his now middle-aged face was fuller than in the previous year’s Sanjuro. The signs of creeping middle-age had made their appearance in the 1962 film-but seemed only to add to the charisma of his characterization of the title’s eponymous hero. By 1963-a mere year later, however, the 43 year-old actor looked almost a decade older.

    Mifune’s High and Low character’s sturdy, working-class looks, buzz-cut hair, Western clothing, and profession come as a shock to eyes used to admiring Mifune’s beauty (I know this may not be universally felt!). It was hard to wrap my head around the concept of the protagonist as a manufacturer of shoes! So pedestrian, literally!

    The film itself is bifurcated-in a wholly fascinating, compelling way. I don’t agree with critics who prefer either act one or act two. Of course, act one is dominated by Mifune and his ambitions and his problem(s), played out a little like The Lower Depths with the central room of the dwelling as main stage. Like the earlier film, Kurosawa wrings out a fascinating story from very little scenery.

    One of my favorite Mifune characterizations is the scene where Mifune’s character tries to “wash that man right out of his hair” (nod to South Pacific) in such a violent way you think he will be bald by shower’s end!

    But, there’s something in the air in this film. It may be how very suave Tatsuya Nakadai seems (well…we’ve already noted how he was Kurosawa’s snake as contrasted wtih Mifune as Kurosawa’s lion) and how the second half of the film fares excellently without Mifune.

    Is High and Low a set of training wheels for the future of Kurosawa’s filmmaking? As we know (and heave a sigh of regret as we acknowledge it) our last glimpse of Mifune as Kurosawa’s favorite will be in Red Beard– and even there, Mifune will not have most of the best scenes.


    Jon Hooper

    I haven’t thought about the way in which the film look’s ahead to the future of Kurosawa, but Mifune’s disappearance in the second half does indeed suggest a kind of rehearsal for his eventual disappearance from Kurosawa’s work altogether. In Red Beard there is also the fact that he is shifted to the wise older person role that Shimura Takashi used to embody.

    Personally I love the way the film is split into two (much like Ikiru). Can you think of a Hollywood film where the star all but disappears in the second half? I thought that David Fincher’s recent film Zodiac had much in common with High and Low, because they both display a fascination with the process, with the machinery of detective work. There is more to say, I think, on the structure of the film and I will try to write down some thoughts before the month is out.



    Mifune’s part in the film is indeed interesting, with his looming presence in the first half contrasted with an almost complete disappearance in the second. You can, however, easily watch the film without actually realising this, and I think it is largely because of the excellence of the rest of the cast.

    I would actually be ready to go as far as to say that from all of Kurosawa’s movies, High and Low has the best acting. There are really no weak links there, save for the boy playing Gondo’s son.

    And yet, with the brilliance of the rest of the cast it is really Tsutomu Yamazaki whose Takeuchi seems to steal the show. It is almost scary how much he can express and how well he can hold our attention without practically saying a line until the very end of the movie, and in many scenes wearing dark glasses that prevent us from seeing his eyes. His walk is very expressive, as are the ways he moves his hands.

    If you have got the new Criterion High and Low, spend a few minutes watching the interview with him.



    And think of Tsutomu Yamazaki in Red Beard! He is heartbreaking, there! I couldn’t even imagine his Sahachi as the same man who was Takeuchi in High and Low!

    Sometimes, I think of Red Beard as the film containing Kurosawa’s finest character studies. The relative remoteness of Mifune’s character Dr. Niide in the film is like a goodbye. The two women-the Mantis and Otoyo are such remarkable presences-how could anyone think that Kurosawa didn’t “do” women’s characters? But anyway,

    In the Hell portion of Heaven and HellTsutomu Yamazaki takes us down those hallucinatory alleys populated by drug addicted ghosts, from the nightclub with the American G.I.s partying (that black guy is particularly memorable) -and he is completely convincing and chilling!

    I could hardly believe he was in Tampopo and A Taxing Woman, too!



    Kurosawa, over saturated Gondo in the first half of High and Low, allowing him to appear common. Once removed in the second half, the creation of scarcity is had, and from that the spawn of respect, honor, and value.

    Much the same was done on Mifune the person, by Kurosawa, such perhaps illustrated in Red Beard as an elegant withdraw .

    I’m rather convinced Kurosawa, had a big plan for a Mifune, and withdrawn from Mifune’s usage to save him from becoming common.

    Unfortunately circumstance prevented the re-uniting, it’s effectiveness not fully realized, just as in High and Low.

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