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High and Low: Subjective reflections

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    It hardly needs to be stated that a central theme of the film is duality. From the title, to the gap between Gondo’s house and the industrial hell hole of the city below, to the contrast between Gondo and the kidnapper, we are constantly led to see the film as one of contrasts.

    But a second visual motif, particularly prominent near the end, is that of reflections. We see the police reflected in the car window, we see reflections off the kidnappers dark glasses, and of course, most famously, Gondo sees his reflection in the prison window as the kidnapper is hauled away.

    Most of the writing on the film concentrates on the dualities, without (in my view) coming to any convincing conclusions as to what it means. Most comparisons are with Stray Dog, with its similar dualities.

    But it does occur to me that by mixing these two motifs, what we are left with as dualities which are only dualities when seen by the neutral eye of the directors camera. When seen in reflection (as in, when Gondo sees the kidnappers face replaced with his own), the duality collapses from the subjective viewpoint, which brings us to Rashomons nightmarish world of an absence of any objective truth. This seems to be confirmed by the manner in which the characters are completely confounded by what they learn about their ‘opposite’ – that the kidnapper is a junior doctor who will one day be well off, that Gondo is not the ruthless arrogant rich man he first appears to be.

    Is the core theme of the film that even the clearest dualities are only superficially apparent? That the subjective viewpoint of the viewer within the duality makes the concept of truth impossible? In other words, we have a more sophisticated refinement of the theme of Rashomon?



    This is very well put.

    The interesting difference seems to be that while Rashomon‘s world puzzles the characters that inhabit it, the ones in High and Low, and especially Gondo, seem to accept the complex nature of reality. Of course, Gondo should be familiar with superficial truths, having seen both poverty and affluence, and now witnessing how the papers superficially turn him into a self-sacrificing martyr.

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