Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Notes on Trevor Lynch's Review of HIGH AND LOW directed by Akira Kurosawa

For the review, click the following link:

High and Low is a portrait of a virtuous industrialist who is targeted for destruction by a nihilistic criminal who hails from the professional rather than the working class and is motivated not by need but by envy and pure malice.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s virtuous. To a large degree, Kingo Gondo(Toshiro Mifune) was compelled to do the ‘right thing’. If he has something in common with the kidnapper(named Takeuchi and played by Tsutomu Yamazaki), it is neither character truly understands himself — ultimately, both are driven by emotions than moral reasoning though, to be sure, whereas Takeuchi had all the time in the world to plan the crime(like Gondo with his secret plot to take over the company), time is running out for Gondo to either pay the ransom or finalize his takeover, a classic 'gain the world, lose the soul' situation. Gondo does the moral thing, but he’s not really sure what drove him to it. And even though the criminal later tries to justify or explain himself, he doesn’t really know his own heart(or lack of one). After all, the economic argument isn’t very compelling on his part. Though he’s known poverty, he was studying to be a doctor and had something of a future. So, he was driven by more than need. Was it an idea, a kind of twisted philosophy that possesses the character of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT? Or was it just the nature he was born with? In RED BEARD, there’s a psycho-woman who goes around seducing and killing men. We learn she was victimized as a child, but Mifune’s character of the wise doctor says that some people are simply born evil, and there's nothing that can be done about it. If so, are they to blame for their pathology? Can society be blamed for failing to reform such individuals? If being born-evil is a natural condition in some people, what is to be done? Most likely, even had Takeuchi been born into affluence/privilege, he likely would have had evil lurking in his heart and would have committed other crimes of sociopathic nature. There are surely plenty of white collar criminals and scumbags in the Deep State. Alas, they have the Law on their side and can get away with acting like miscreants. Rule of Law is for little people. Jewish Power and Deep State are above that.

Now, Gondo's frustration(bordering on anger) in regards to Aoki's desperate pleading to save his son was, in a way, s desperate repression of his shame that he's decided to choose money over life. It's especially stinging on his conscience because he was willing to pay any sum to save his own kid but doesn't feel the same way for another man's son... which, of course, is natural as most of us don't care about strangers. Still, with Aoki the relationship is somewhat complicated because, even though he's just a hireling who's only owed waged, he's also been a loyal servant and grown close to the family, indeed to the extent that his son plays with Gondo's son as if they're siblings. Whereas the parents are distinguished by rank and status, kids are still kids. They even switch roles and toy guns at the drop of a hat in playing cops and robbers. Ironically, Gondo cheers on his son in the role of robber. He tells him to do ANYTHING to 'kill' the cop and come out on top. Winning is what matters. Because his son feels so close to Aoki's kid, Gondo is especially in a quandary. Also, the ONLY reason the kid was kidnapped was because of mistaken identity. The real target was Gondo's son, and so, Aoki's son would NOT have been kidnapped if he hadn't been playing in the premises of Gondo's house and mistaken for his kid. So, in a way, even though Gondo's son is safe at home, it is as if he was kidnapped in a 'spiritual' sense. Aoki's kid could very well be Gondo's kid. It was only by chance that the kidnapper took the wrong kid. There is also the fact that Aoki is a widower and only has his son as family(like with the widower of IKIRU; one of the sad things about the angry peasant in SEVEN SAMURAI is that his wife has been kidnapped by the bandits, and so, he has no family, which for Kurosawa, is the saddest thing, as with the Dersu Uzala character). (In a way, there are two wrongful kidnappings in HIGH AND LOW. Not only is the wrong kid abducted but the wrong Gondo is targeted by Takeuchi the kidnapper, i.e. Takeuchi's imagination of Gondo as heartless villain is at odds with the real man who, though no saint, isn't a monster either. But Takeuchi's craziness can't hold a candle to current PC craziness in the West where Jewish Power willfully paints the wrong image of Evil Whiteness, so evil that it must be attacked and destroyed and shown no quarters. People like Tim Wise, Sabrina Rubin Erderly, and Mark Zuckerberg's disgusting sister are kidnappers and murderers of White Reputation.)

Now, if Aoki's son had been kidnapped at Aoki's house for reasons unrelated to Gondo, Gondo would have felt no special obligation to sacrifice his wealth for the kid. But, as Aoki's kid was playing with Gondo's kid only because Aoki was working for Gondo, it's not merely an academic matter but a very personal one. It's not just a question of abstract altruism but personal attachment. Unlike his partners who are willing to stab him in the back(and vice versa), Aoki has been a loyal worker. Also, children easily become friends and attached to one another, and Gondo would feel shamefaced in front of his own son IF he let the other kid get murdered.

Also, the 'national' and 'social' elements cannot be overstated. Jewish Power pushed two ideologies on Western Man: Anti-National collectivism(especially via communism and anarchism)
and Anti-National individualism(especially via libertarianism and me-centered hedonism). Though collectivism and individualism are polar opposites, they have one key commonality: Denial of National Identity, Unity, and Purpose. Ideally, communism was supposed to be a borderless ideology of workers-of-the-world(even though its tyranny, failures, and paranoia about the richer and more powerful West led to strict border controls that actually boosted national preservation, if only by accident). And libertarian capitalism denigrates national identities as 'atavistic tribalism' and emphasizes the free individual as rootless globalist wanderer. But even as Jews pushed these two modes on goyim, their main mode was a form of 'national socialism' via Zionism and Jewish Consciousness. Indeed, it was a key reason as to why many Jews were alarmed by the rise of German National Socialism and fascism in general. Sure, they were disturbed by its anti-Jewish vitriol, but the other reason was the Germans had figured out the real source of Jewish Power: Jews used capitalism and employed elements of socialism BUT centered around Jewish Interests; in other words, make collectivism and individualism revolve around nationalism than abandon nationalism to wholly commit oneself to collectivism or individualism. (To be sure, the main passion of white people today is more idolatry than ideology: Worship of the holy three of Jews, homos, and Negroes, what with both white socialists and white capitalists sucking to Fentanyl Floyd as the holy angel.) Without Tribalesse Oblige, the elites of a people split from the masses of the people... as we are now seeing in the West and even the East.

Now, 'national socialism' only works within the nation, which is why both German imperialism and Japanese imperialism became so problematic and ultimately monstrous. Their strong sense of identity made them cohesive at home but alienated & hostile abroad, especially among those they regarded as inferior. And we see the same problem with Jewish Power. Zionism works well for Jews in Israel but unfolds as supremacist Nazi-like imperialism outside the Jewish nation because Jews feel disdain and contempt for goyim, be they Arabs or Iranians.

Kurosawa on the set of RED BEARD with Toshiro Mifune
But it turns out there is a heroic and manly way to make women’s shoes. Gondo… is hosting some of his fellow executives, who wish to enlist him in a corporate coup against the “old man” who… is stuck in a rut of making unfashionable “army boots.” Gondo’s colleagues wish to manufacture flashy shoes that are cheaply made. Gondo wants to make more fashionable products, but he feels that selling shoddy merchandise is dishonorable…

Here Akira Kurosawa was probably making a commentary on culture as a whole, not least film culture. HIGH AND LOW came out when Japanese cinema was coming under serious competition from TV. Also, with rising prosperity, the culture was changing from post-war humanism & moralism to consumerism, hedonism, & even nihilism. Given the wreckage of war and widespread poverty, the humanist themes/message in fiction and movies had resonated with audiences around the world as nations began to rebuild from the rubble. But in Japan as in Europe, the rise of La Dolce Vita sensibility led to consumers hankering for style and fashion than morality and sobriety. And some even regarded YOJIMBO as a nod in this direction; it was a huge hit in Japan and inspired the nihilistic A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS that changed film history, not necessarily for the better(though Sergio Leone was a true giant). But beneath the veneer of nihilistic ‘cool’, YOJIMBO was meant as morality tale and satire. It was meant to be more despairing of than inspired by the new outlook, especially among the young. On the one hand, Kurosawa understood that Japanese cinema could not rehash the same humanist messages that had special meaning for post-war movie audiences. Times change, and arts/entertainment must stay afloat of new conditions and expectations if they're to be relevant. He understood that people in a more prosperous Japan wanted a popular culture with more color, splash, and excitement. And in a way, HIGH AND LOW is the kind of shoes that Gondo wants to make: sturdy and stylish. It is substantive with serious themes but also stylish and suspenseful. And even though it is on the side of law and morality, it daringly ventures into the nether zones of modern Japan, disapprovingly but with a certain cool fascination.
Kurosawa was feeling the pressure. Not only from the rapidly rising popularity of TV but from a younger generation of film-makers with more of a ‘new wave’ approach. His brand of cinema faced the problem of not being low/popular enough and high/arty enough. Two years prior to HIGH AND LOW, Shohei Imamura made PIGS AND BATTLESHIPS set in a similar social milieu, though mostly of ‘hell’ or the ‘low’. There’s a devil-may-care sensibility in Imamura’s film that lends it nuance and fluidity missing in Kurosawa’s work that, despite ‘modernist’ touches, is essentially a rather rigid moral drama(which at times comes close to melodrama). Kurosawa wore the hefty theme on his sleeve, as with Otto Preminger, and it could have been off-putting to subtler sensibilities(which is why many cineastes never tire of telling everyone they prefer Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse, or etc. over Kurosawa). Imamura’s films have a licentious spirit and free-wheeling curiosity, absent of anything like a 'message' and leaving the meaning to the audience to piece together on their own. The mercurial Imamura runs with the idea and follows it wherever it may lead, whereas Kurosawa projects a moral map in an Apollonian manner.
Like Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini, Kurosawa came into his own in the humanist 1950s and was somewhat at odds with the newly emerging film sensibility of the 60s though YOJIMBO did play a role in setting the tone. While the mass audience was turning to TV, leading critics were shifting their attention to younger talents like Nagisa Oshima, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and Imamura. Another problem was Kurosawa, like David Lean, got accustomed to scale(as a matter of prestige) and thereby less adept at navigating the troubled waters of changing economy and taste. He faced the danger of becoming a dinosaur in a rapidly changing industry that could no longer afford his kind of 'perfectionism'. Overly confident of his vaunted position as a world-famous master film-maker, Kurosawa stuck with established conventions of film-making, albeit with nods to innovation and fashion. He wanted to make fancier boots than high heels, and sadly, HIGH AND LOW was the last of its kind for Kurosawa. The next film RED BEARD was an excellent boot but very much an old boot. Critics and the public saluted it as a grand monument(and last hurrah) to humanism but didn't salivate over it. It was acknowledged as serious and important but failed to garner enthusiasm as the future direction of Japanese cinema.

Incidentally, the scenario of plotting to overthrow the ‘old man’ in HIGH AND LOW later resurfaces in RAN where the two older sons plot against the father while the youngest son, though seemingly ungrateful and petulant, is not without principles and a deeper sense of loyalty. Likewise, even though Gondo seems to stand against the 'old man', it is out of loyalty to the latter's resolute sense of standards. HIGH AND LOW and RAN also have in common the journey from top to bottom, and few places are as visually apt as Japan, a mountainous island-nation, for themes related to hierarchy.
RAN - 1985
I prefer Kurosawa’s morality plays to Imamura’s anthropological forays, but the didacticism could favor instruction over inspiration. Though Kurosawa’s imagination wandered widely from the high world to the low, his lens was usually focused on the good and the bad, honorable and dishonorable, teacher and student, noble and ignoble. As such, his realism was in service of moralism, even an idealism(a blend of traditional culture of respect and modern commitment to individuality), than acceptance of reality as reality. It's no wonder that, despite the realist settings of many of his films, most characters belong to certain social types. (Only SEVEN SAMURAI comes close to breaking out of this mold.) He was unwilling to see people and accept them just as they are. His vision always had a moral vertebrae with overarching shape and structure from head to tail. The stuff of good vs evil, noble & ignoble, and heroes & villains that audiences could readily recognize. Kurosawa, like Masaki Kobayashi, thought in terms of the Human Condition. But perhaps a closer probing of humanity requires malleability in the degrees of observation and inspection. Imamura was like an octopus. Lacking the rigidity of a moralist backbone, he could slither in and out of all kinds of human situations without moral judgement though his works aren't without moral sense. For Imamura, truth itself intimately observed and accurately delineated has moral value in and of itself. It's no wonder his characters, major or minor, are first and foremost individuals than archetypes or stereotypes. VENGEANCE IS MINE, for example, is the kind of film that Kurosawa could not have made. Kurosawa tried to confront the evil of the kidnapper/murderer in HIGH AND LOW but hit a brick wall. The character comes close to being the face of Evil Incarnate and remains beyond comprehension. He is only to be judged and condemned. It's as if Kurosawa felt there's a limit to human understanding, as with the woodcutter and the priest in the opening of RASHOMON who simply cannot penetrate the mysteries of human darkness. In contrast, Imamura slithered into the decrepit souls of the characters in PIGS AND BATTLESHIPS and VENGEANCE IS MINE and observed like a naturalist. A special kind of skill but sure to be discomfiting to most audiences.

Gondo then explains to his assistant that he has been planning his own takeover of National Shoes, mortgaging himself to the hilt buying up chunks of stock. All he needs is to complete one last purchase.

This suggest Gondo isn’t exactly virtuous. Though clearly more admirable than his partners, he’s not above backroom deals and intrigue to gain the upper hand. Perhaps, he’s justified in his maneuvers, but he’s also driven by egotism and pride.

If he does pay, the child may still die, the money may never be recovered, and Gondo will almost surely be ruined. Eventually, though, Gondo is persuaded by his wife, his driver, and the police to pay the ransom. It is the compassionate thing to do.

It is a bit more complicated. There is the matter of public opinion. If Gondo doesn’t pay the ransom and uses the money to take over the company, he could get such bad press that he will be ruined anyway. It’s really a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, or being stuck between a rock and a hard place. So, even though he was partly motivated by conscience, did he really have a choice? Either way, he might have faced ruin. A man is not an island but lives in a community. (If Gondo doesn't pay the ransom and if the kid dies, he has to deal with both public pressure and personal issues. Without the love/respect of his wife and son, could he really live with a peace of mind? He isn't a loner but a family man, and there is something like a family-mind in any household. What he might accept on his own is far more difficult to accept as the head of a family. The old villain in BAD SLEEP WELL is willing to even lose his son & daughter to keep his position, but Gondo isn't that kind of man.) If the community rejects the man as immoral or soulless, the man becomes an outcast. There is some of this in the dynamics of ‘woke capital’, the difference being that whereas Gondo was faced with a real moral dilemma and did what was right, most of ‘woke capital’ is either just delusional or craven in sucking up to PC narrative pushed by insane Jewish Supremacists. (I mean, when will ‘woke capital’ push ‘Palestinian Lives Matter’ or ‘Justice for Libyans and Syrians destroyed by Obama and Hillary’ or ‘Sanction Israel that has nukes and stop sanctioning Iran that has NO nukes’?) As in IKIRU, we don’t really know the motivation behind Gondo. He doesn’t really know either. Was he truly motivated by conscience or did he do the right thing because he couldn’t win either way? Or did it have to do with self-justification under the gaze of his family and the police. The policemen remain as calm and professional as the wife is distressed and pleading, but Gondo can sense judgement in their silence. So, there is jumble of motivations. Likewise, was the old man in IKIRU really motivated by compassion or did his ego seek validation before he died? Was it really selfless or was it about the self, the need to be remembered?

Thus far, High and Low has been, in effect, a filmed stage play. But Kurosawa is so virtuosic at creating dramatic tension and coaxing out compelling performances that the result is not static at all.

An odd thing about HIGH AND LOW is that the ‘stage play’ opening of the film is more exciting and suspenseful than the latter part, much of which takes place outdoors and is full of movement. The interior scenes are less static than the exterior ones.

The film then switches gears again into a quasi-documentary about the police’s attempts to find the kidnapper and recover Gondo’s money. At this point, some people might feel the movie drags, but I found the meticulous rationality of the detective work fascinating.

For first-time viewers, it won’t drag because of the element of mystery and suspense. But for repeat-viewing, some of the later scenes with detective work do drag because they are presented more like docu-drama procedural than psychological drama. (In contrast, Fritz Lang’s M is compelling from start to finish no matter how many times you watch it.) It would have been more interesting had Kurosawa developed the detectives as fully-realized characters than presented them rather too heroically as social ideals. They strike me as too-good-to-be-true, too upright. Kurosawa mocked such earnestness in the young samurai in SANJURO, but the lawmen of HIGH AND LOW are to be taken as the best of the best. For this reason, the darker implications of the police work don't register as powerfully. After all, the inspector could have had the kidnapper arrested but prolong the pursuit to charge him with a more serious crime, thereby receiving a sentence befitting his wicked nature and the grave harm he's caused. As a result, the kidnapper ends up killing another person, a female junkie who is used as a guinea pig. This raises a ethical question as to whether the police acted professionally or out of vendetta against the criminal, especially as the head detective became personally invested in bringing justice to Gondo, who did the right thing at great cost. His personal feelings about Gondo may have affected his professional decision, leading to the death of a woman. (Also, in a question session with reporters, the police urge the newsmen to give bad press to the shoe company for firing Gondo. It is to punish the executives, but won't the depressed sales hurt the workers as well? Also, is it professional or ethical for the police to make such a request? This darker side of police work — the questionable ethics even when the lawmen act in the name of justice — isn't addressed in the film.)

It is a wonderful portrait of what is possible in a homogeneous, high-IQ, high-solidarity society—everything whites have lost by embracing diversity.

This is questionable. Japan has been called a high-trust society, but it’s more a high-conformist and high-obedience society, though these days perhaps not even that. Japanese justice system has been notorious for being unresponsive to problems until things really go south. Also, the legacy of caste-mentality and social hierarchy can just as easily foster distrust as trust among the populace. After all, the film is called HEAVEN AND HELL or High and Low. Japanese with privilege don’t care about the rest. Their attitude is “I got mine” or at best, "My family got ours", and that is the extent of Gondo's concern when he realizes his chauffeur's son has been kidnapped.
Why is the nation of Japan in a death spiral? Because Japanese look down on 'dirty', 'dangerous', and 'degrading' labor. Japanese would rather die than do ‘dirty’ work. In the past, many Japanese just accepted their lot and did whatever job was available but prolonged affluence led to higher expectations among many Japanese, and they’d rather commit national suicide and import cheap labor(that will lead to the great replacement) than do ‘dirty’ jobs. In BAD SLEEP WELL, Kurosawa exposed the hollowness of the cult of trust in Japan. While underlings sacrifice their lives for their bosses, the latter just hoard everything for themselves. The rich care about family members but lack any sense of larger good or national interest. Kurosawa himself, despite the humanist themes of his works, attempted suicide in the early 1970s when he felt he could no longer make the kinds of films he wanted to. Accustomed to his role as the emperor of Japanese cinema, he was unwilling to shift gears and work on more modest projects as some of his peers did. Perhaps, he found them 'degrading'.

High and Low is clearly an anti-Marxist film.

While it’s not a Marxist film, it isn’t anti-Marxist either. It might be called ‘national socialist’ with little ‘n’ and ‘s’. It is about a rich man who comes to look beyond class & privilege and embraces the child of his servant as if his own. He goes from capitalist mindset and family-centrism to national and humanist consciousness. This was the positive side of National Socialism and New Deal. This theme, of the high and mighty being compelled to recognize the humanity of those below them in status, recurs throughout Kurosawa’s works. In SEVEN SAMURAI, the ronin are masterless knights but still higher in social rank than the lowly peasants. Initially the samurai feel it’s beneath them to risk their lives for dirty peasants, but the two groups join forces against the bandits. In MEN WHO TREAD ON TIGER’S TAIL and HIDDEN FORTRESS, noblemen-in-exile disguise themselves as commoners and come to see the other side of society. Kurosawa as a young man had communist sympathies and even as late as the 1970s, he had glowing things to say about Lenin(to Andrei Konchalovsky’s horror).

In films like BAD SLEEP WELL, RED BEARD, and YOJIMBO, merchants don’t come across as noble characters. And yet, Kurosawa could see things from both sides. As such, HIGH AND LOW makes an interesting contrast with BAD SLEEP WELL. The latter film is about the evil of corruption fueled by greed, whereas the hero of the former is a businessman tormented by an impoverished medical student. Thus, good and evil isn’t a matter of class(though it seems those who gain great wealth or power tend to be sociopathic: take the loathsome Jeff Bezos and the scum in the Deep State; on the other hand, consider all the lumpen scum who loot and burn; 2020 is the year of synergy between elite deep state and lowly street scum, with horrendous consequences; for sure, the convergence of sociopaths on top and psychopaths on the bottom is recipe for disaster). Kurosawa had socialist-humanist leanings but also an elitist streak, not least because of his samurai background. It’s like Oliver Stone is a man of the Left but with a Great Man Complex: Tony Montana, Gordon Gekko, Alexander the Great. Kurosawa found humanism in the lower depths but also nobility in the higher reaches. KAGEMUSHA is kind of a reverse of HIDDEN FORTRESS. A vulgar thief comes to appreciate and ultimately die for the lofty honor of the Takeda clan. It's about the low entering the realm of the high than the vice versa in HIDDEN FORTRESS.
In fact, the leftist rhetoric he spouts is simply a tool by which these monsters gain the power to murder millions.

There’s an element of leftism but also nihilism. He tries to convince Gondo and himself that he doesn’t care if he dies. He claims to be unafraid of anything and beyond human emotions, but he breaks down with a fury and desperation that is all too human, even animal. The final moment is harrowing because the would-be-nihilist finally realizes his own humanity, its fragility and weakness. It’s been said of Kamikaze pilots that they died beautifully and poetically without fear, for country and emperor. But it’s been recorded that many charged to their deaths scared out of their minds screaming for mother. In the end, they were human after all.

In their meeting, Takeuchi(the kidnapper) realizes that Gondo is not the monster that he made him out to be, imagined him to be, indeed willed him to be. Seeing the big mansion from below, Takeuchi created his own impression of Gondo. Since greed is a common feature among the rich, Takeuchi created an essentialist view of Gondo as a rich parasite; by what is shown in HIGH AND LOW, he isn't exactly wrong as Gondo's business associates do come across as greedy and unscrupulous. In a way, it might have pleased Takeuchi IF Gondo hadn’t paid the ransom and let the child die. Then, Takeuchi would have been vindicated in his view of Gondo. But Gondo paid, even if it meant personal ruin for the sake of a child who isn't his own. Gondo did the ‘leftist’ thing in favoring the life of a servant than personal profits. In contrast, Takeuchi ended up taking money in exchange for the life of a poor man’s son, hardly a leftist thing to do.
Perhaps, Takeuchi would have at least felt vindicated if Gondo had been bitter toward him in their meeting — greedy Gondo angry about the money or the anger as evidence of Takeuchi's significance in the lives of others. Instead, he sees a decent man and has to face the fact that he ruined the life of a man, not a monster. Thus, Takeuchi loses something more dear to him than his life: His radical self-justification based on a delusion. Sadly, such deluded conviction is now the official ideology of the US. Any black person is morally justified in seeing every white person as ‘racist’, ‘fragile’, ‘privileged’, or whatever. The fantasy of righteous hate takes precedence over reality and complexity. Thus, the whole nation has been taken hostage by black and Antifa lunatics egged on by insane Jewish supremacists.

High and Low’s portrayal of a heroic businessman plagued by an envious villain, as well as its celebration of the rationality of the police detectives could almost spring from the pen of Ayn Rand. Gondo and the detectives represent the highest virtues of bourgeois modernity, whereas the kidnapper represents its deepest vice.

Not sure about this. Ayn Rand was not about bourgeois values but radical individualism. She might have sneered at Gondo’s decision to pay the ransom as sappy ‘altruism’. Granted, Randism at its core isn’t really about ‘muh profits’. In THE FOUNTAINHEAD, Peter Keating reaps the profits by whoring out to public taste whereas Howard Roark faces many hardships and bouts of poverty. Still, he has Rand’s respect because of his vision and refusal to compromise, ever. But HIGH AND LOW isn’t a celebration of the superior individual. Its morality is closer to IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE where an individual with visibly superior qualities sacrifices personal dreams for what is good for his hometown community. Would such outlook have sat well with Ayn Rand? Rand surely would have told George Bailey to leave dinky Bedford Falls and follow his dream like Howard Roark.

HIGH AND LOW might make for an interesting comparison with the Oscar-winner Korean film PARASITE by Bong Joon-Ho. Both are about class tensions. The difference is, whereas HIGH AND LOW offered some hope of mutual understanding between the classes on the basis of nationalism and humanism, there is nothing to salvage in PARASITE where society and culture are utterly soulless, bloodless, and gutless.

HIGH AND LOW diagnosed the problems of its day as festering future wounds if left untreated. (How ironic that the villain is a medical student. Medicine as mere profession isn't enough to guarantee the nobleness of its calling, the theme of Kurosawa's next film RED BEARD.) Post-war prosperity was welcome but had a divisive effect on the Japanese who, due to war and deprivation, had shared in the hardships together as a nation. Class divisions are inevitable in any society but threaten the sense of national identity and unity. Today, we see this problem all over the world. Western elites no longer feel any sense of unity or solidarity with their racial brethren among the lower classes. They are too busy snubbing white masses as ‘racist’ or virtue-signaling about homos, Negroes, and Diversity. And much the same is happening in Japan. Its merchant elites have turned Japan into a soulless consumer society. With its adoption of globo-homo, afro-globo, mass immigration, and irreversible decline in birthrates, Japan is doomed like the West.

There’s a harrowing scene of druggies in HIGH AND LOW, and fast-forward to today, and consider the global spread of drug culture(aided and abetted by pop culture that has increasingly grown to resemble drugs, more like chemicals than experiences). In every continent, there's massive addiction to legal and illegal drugs. Mass white deaths from opioids(but white lives don’t matter in Jewish Supremacist America where countless brain-dead whites worship George Floyd the Fentanyl Negro.) Entire cultures centered on drugs and fantasy of escapism. Junkies seek insta-heaven with easy highs but fall deeper into the pits of hell.
HIGH AND LOW also exposes the problems of US imperialism and the vices it spreads. Surely, the most outrageous scene is in the nightclub where some monster-sized Negro with a big ass fattened with countless buckets of fried chicken keep trying to land a five with his big fat hand on everyone. It's a vision of Japan as whore nation to the US. A memorable Ugly American scene. Against drugs, nihilism, and mindless hedonism, Kurosawa offered a vision of life and economy centered on honest work, family, and morality. At one time, such values were easily recognized by most people, but today, they are shocking and scandalous in a world of the New Normal where the highest morality is LGBT marching with BLM to push utterly delusional visions of reality. In the end, Kurosawa’s warnings came to naught, and modern civilization is one big suicide cult.

One problem with the film is that the rival executives are reduced to paper-thin scoundrels to make Gondo seem so much better. They are too obvious as foils. It would have been more interesting if the execs were presented as men with reasonable(if not exactly noble) motives of their own. After all, they are selling women’s shoes, the kind women intend to dispose of sooner than later. Shoddy boots are a bad idea, but shoddy women’s shoes make sense given women’s shoes change with fashion. Also, there is the high-end market and low-end market. A lot of people buy stuff that they don’t intend to keep for long. Indeed, Gondo and others could have compromised. Make high-end quality shoes at higher price and make cheap shoes for low-end market. Why not both? It’s like Hollywood made both A movies and B movies. But Kurosawa and his co-writers opted for a simpler setup verging on melodrama. In contrast, consider the characterizations of Barzini and Hyman Roth in THE GODFATHER movies. Though we are left rooting for the Corleones, we can see where Barzini is coming from. The man is all business, and he knows drugs are the future. And we know Roth holds a personal grudge(about Moe Green) to rival Michael's own regarding Sollozzo the Turk. MICHAEL CLAYTON may not be a great movie but is all the more interesting for having a villainess who isn't evil by design but by circumstances. If Gondo is compelled to do the 'right thing', she is compelled under pressure to do the wrong thing. Not because she's evil at the core but because her vanity and loyalty to the company require she do so. Still, she takes no pleasure in doing it. Perhaps, only few people are evil at the core(and relish acting evil), but many people do end up committing evil acts out of 'necessity'; worse, it can become habitual and mundane, thus no longer appearing on the moral radar — it's like those working in the sewage don't notice the smell so badly. Granted, the rival execs in HIGH AND LOW are not exactly evil — they are too petty and predictable for that — , but they are utterly two-dimensional creatures.

In RAN, while the two older sons are vile characters, we can at least understand where they're coming from. Their motives aren't purely scoundrel-like. The oldest son isn’t very bright and has only the position to stake his authority. The second son is smart and feels HE should inherit the throne. They are bad but understandable. In contrast, the execs in HIGH AND LOW are shallow jerks, and that’s about it. Now, there are real people who are little more than jerks, but in HIGH AND LOW, such characterizations seem too easy a way to burnish Gondo's credentials as an ethical businessman. There’s an element of cheap shot.

The great thing about SEVEN SAMURAI is that even the most craven and despicable peasant, the father of the pretty girl, is utterly understandable on human terms. And he’s not entirely wrong in his arguments and in his feelings. HIGH AND LOW doesn’t reach so high.

The Japanese title of High and Low… literally means “Heaven and Hell.” But High and Low is a good title, because the movie is constructed around the contrasts between a modernist mansion… and the crowded, chaotic city below.

While HIGH AND LOW as title is certainly workable, it misses at the bigger meaning of the film. ‘High’ and ‘Low’ indicate differences in wealth and status, but Kurosawa ponders something darker than mere economic hardship and poverty. One can be in the low world but not in hell. ‘Hell’ is a moral and spiritual condition. Kurosawa’s earlier films showed much poverty, but in ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY, a real gem, a couple barely has enough money for a cup of coffee but are still in a kind of heaven than hell because they have each other.

The hell in HIGH AND LOW is not the world of the poor. It’s a state of mind, the destruction of souls. The film goes from the rich world to the world of the poor, but we still don’t see hell. We see hell when we finally encounter kidnapper and the world of addiction. We also see hell in the raucous night club scene. Now, hedonism isn’t necessarily hellish, and every city has(and even needs) something like the Red-Light District, but there’s something especially sleazy about the night-club scene and not because of some gorilla-like big-ass Negro fattened on fried chicken. It is a vision of Japan as un-Japan, a zone not only of military occupation but cultural degeneration. The racial mix in the club are united only by noise, rancor, and amnesia. (It’s different from the folk music in HIDDEN FORTRESS that confirms the community.) Now, if such stuff can be restricted to the Red-Light District, it wouldn’t be so bad, but such Americanism came to serve as the blueprint for ALL OF CULTURE and ALL OF SOCIETY and ALL AROUND THE WORLD, a hellish vision of the Kalergi Plan of no borders, no limits, no thoughts of past or future but just the thrill of the jungle moment. What is the main expression of Western Civilization today? ‘Twerking’. At least the Twist(seen in the movie) was a half-decent kind of dance.

So, using ‘low’ than ‘hell’ misses what the film is ultimately about. It’s about something worse than poverty of means. It’s about the poverty of the soul. In this respect, HIGH AND LOW is a lavish variation of STRAY DOG where the gun-thief and his girlfriend have adopted a kind of nihilism. Indeed, the scenes of arrests of the criminals in the two films are similar. They are handcuffed amidst flowers and reminders of innocence lost.

Also, ‘heaven’ lends a special meaning that ‘high’ simply misses. It adds an element of irony for the ‘heavenly’ world of the high is filled with its own demons. And in a way, the problems of ‘heaven’ is connected to ‘hell’. While Takeuchi the kidnapper was likely born evil or had a childhood so bitter & painful that he was scarred for life, he is also the product of New Japan as created by the US empire with the collaboration of the merchant and war-criminal class. Initially, US Occupation worked with the Japanese Left against the defeated and disgraced Militarist Right. But things soon changed as China turned communist and Soviet Union became the main rival of US power. Also, the Japanese Left got too radical and demanding. So, the US rehabilitated many militarist elites who’d earlier been accused of war crimes. So, many of the militarist elites who’d once sworn to fight the US to the last man were working as toadies, which ended up creating, more or less, the one-party system in Japan that is totally servile to the US. As such, there was no national theme in Japan but economic growth and materialism. It was all about the Money, and Takeuchi is someone who grew up under the new system. Of course, his crime is his own. After all, most Japanese, regardless of circumstances, didn’t go around committing crimes or kidnapping kids. Still, his soullessness is part of the larger disease flowing from those on top. Just like the corrupt businessmen in BAD SLEEP WELL are capable of ANYTHING to get what they want, the kidnapper follows the same logic. The differences is that those with privilege and connections can pull strings and get away with it. In contrast, low-level criminals when caught must face justice.

…as the detectives observe Gondo’s character—his decision to pay the ransom, his courage, his intelligence, and his unpretentiousness (mowing his own lawn, breaking out his shoemaker’s tools to help modify the briefcases for the ransom)—they are won over

To be sure, he mows his own lawn because he was fired from the company and has too much time on his hands. Ideally, he should be at work and his servant would do the lawn work.

Gondo is a self-made man, who rose to his position due to hard work. He was not born to wealth and privilege. His wife does come from a privileged background, and her dowry certainly helped matters, but he had to win her through hard work and character as well.

Right. The thing about Gondo is we mustn’t see him only as a businessman. He rose up the ranks and became an executive, but he began as an apprentice and worker on the shop floor. So, he’s the full package. He knows the business from low to high. He paid his dues. He didn’t inherit some high position from a rich father. So, Gondo has the consciousness of prole, craftsman, professional, and businessman.
In a way, it could be Kurosawa’s commentary on how he became a director. Before Film Studies in universities, film-makers rose up the ranks by doing just about anything. They mopped floors, served as extras, learned various skills and tricks on the job. This was true of men like Raoul Walsh and John Ford. While young film-makers today must also work up the ladder, they develop more of a privileged mindset because they enter the profession through college courses. They begin with a cerebral outlook and seek to specialize as writers, producers, or directors. But in Kurosawa’s time, you had to work yourself up from the shop floor. You began like the privates in FULL METAL JACKET, as grunts and maggots. Same with newspapers. Before elite college kids filled the ranks of journalism, many had entered the profession through experience. Now, the Film School system has much to recommend it. It did produce great directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, among others. But, psychologically at least, it’s about going from high to high than working from low to high.
So, characterizing Gondo primarily as a ‘businessman’ would be misleading. The workers in the factory seem to respect him despite his hot temper because he knows the industry from shop floor to high office. He was one of them. Still, as a businessman, he’s far from virtuous and is capable of gambling everything and acting like a shark. Though his partners aren’t saints, his underhanded plot to take over the company was ethically dubious. (Also, Gondo didn’t only plot against the partners but against the ‘old man’ who, though behind the times, seems a man of principle in product quality. The bigger question is why would the ‘old man’, who stodgily resists change, cooperate with unscrupulous short-term profiteers? I suppose the latter could be more shameless in flattering the ‘old man’ in his presence, much like the older sons in RAN who gain the approval of their father while planning his demise.) Worse, without consulting his wife, Gondo put up the family house up as collateral to acquire the loans, thereby risking everything in a daring move to take over the company. Because he bet so much, his fall is especially hard when he must pay the ransom. In a way, he’s a victim of his own hubris, despite the fact that his vision of the company was more admirable than that of his partners.

The ending is happy but haunting. In this case, justice has triumphed, but at great cost. Evil and chaos will always threaten order and goodness.

Can the ending be said to be ‘happy’? Sure, the criminal is caught and brought to justice, but the final scene is grim. Also, by ‘evil and chaos’ threatening the order, what if the very order breeds such evil and chaos(especially of the soul)? In a way, the kidnapper is an agent of evil and chaos. In another way, he is the product of the New Order, a Japan of materialism without a soul. A nation whose survival and livelihood depend on playing whore to US imperialism. Japan gained tremendous economic benefits as a vassal of the US, but what did it lose?
Before defeat, Japan was plagued with a different kind of evil. This Japan did have a soul. It did have a meaningful connection to the past. The Emperor represented the Japanese people’s connection to their history and to their island nation as sacred homeland than mere geography. Through the Emperor, Japanese blood was one with Japanese soil. But with Japan as an imperialist power in its own right, the Yamato spirit had grown cancerous and risked everything. In doing so, it committed great crimes all over Asia and got embroiled with war with US(and then USSR) and then lost everything and had to start from scratch as the Tokyo Shoeshine Boy and Mamasan of the US. In a way, Gondo’s attempted putsch and the son’s overly ambitious battle plan at the end of KAGEMUSHA have something in common with Japanese imperial ambitions. They put all the eggs in one basket, took a huge gamble, and lost everything. Still, militarist Japan stood for something. Japanese people were bound together, high and low, not only by material need but a sense of national culture and spiritual connection to the past. It's as if Japanese had something like the covenant through reverence for the Emperor.
With defeat and US occupation, there were surely great gains in freedoms and economic development. Lots of good positive stuff in many walks of life. But a people cannot live with bread and liberty alone. They need meaning, connection, & pride as a people, and those essentials were lost. The new elites promoted this soulless Japan, and in a way, the kidnapper’s attack on the rich could be, on some subconscious level, a strike against their perfidy. After all, in a nation with meaning, even the poor might feel some ‘spiritual’ connection to the rulers. In his autobiography, Kurosawa said he despised the military dictatorship during the war(and didn’t believe in the literal divinity of Hirohito), but if the Emperor had told the people to commit mass ritual suicide, he would have. What this suggests was that pre-defeat Japan, though defined by some very dark atavistic ideas, was a nation of meaning. There was some real connection between the rulers and the ruled.

In contrast, the kidnapper, like most post-war Japanese, has no soulful connection with the rulers(who are really servants of the US as shogun) or to the nation. Japan is just a marketplace, or worse, a big brothel. Japanese are no longer part of a tree but mere mushrooms growing on rotting wood, which seems to be the theme of ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE(which came out the same year as HIGH AND LOW). Just like underwater atomic blast unleashed Godzilla, something about the New Order made way for the monstrous soul of the kidnapper, especially as he was conceived to be more than a mere individual. He stands as an archetype of soul-malaise, as the inspector, in contrast, stands for duty, dedication, and professionalism amidst the national shame. In other words, while Kurosawa could empathize with those who felt a blinding rage about the New Order, it didn't absolve one of the obligation of being a decent person with a sense of responsibility to the community.

In BAD SLEEP WELL, Kurosawa felt nothing but contempt for undying loyalty based on profits. Why should underlings sacrifice their lives for men who care for nothing but their own privilege and money? But in KAGEMUSHA, despite the oppressive and unjust ways(by modern standards) of the feudal order, Kurosawa is fully of empathy. It is an order of culture, tradition, and meaning, indeed one that so moves the thief that, in the end, he chooses to die in its honor even though he could have lived out his life as a free man without attachment. (The pathology of the killer in VENGEANCE IS MINE is also associated with the theme of weakness. Not only is the killer living in post-defeat Japan but he was raised by a Christian father who seemed so weak and pathetic. It’s as if the son over-compensates as the absolute opposite of his father. His characterization is both more mundane and terrifying than Takeuchi in HIGH AND LOW. Whereas Takeuchi is a damaged soul, a man-turned-monster by whatever circumstances, the killer of Imamura’s film defies all labels and brands and yet is nothing more or less than a man. And if Takeuchi, on some level, can sense his own sickness and feel normal human emotions — no matter how much he represses them — , the psycho in VENGEANCE truly unnerves us as evidence that man can be so far removed from human values but still be utterly human.)

But in a nation without meaning, the rich are simply rich and the poor are simply poor. Consider the new West. In the past, despite class tensions, white folks of a national community might have felt some cultural and spiritual link with their rulers. Today, there is only status for the rich and resentment among the poor. Indeed, if the mob rounded up rich globalist urbanites and threw them into a bonfire, would most of us care? As much as I loathe BLM and Antifa, I watched with pleasure as they ransacked parts of Manhattan and boutique stores around L.A. In a way, Antifa’s embrace of BLM is a reaction to white elite’s embrace of Magic Negro and Diversity. White elites have been telling the white masses, “You are a bunch of ‘racists’, and we GOOD white elites care about blacks and diversity.” Antifa, filled with ranks of lesser whites with cruddier education, romp around with a twist of the white elite logic. Antifa whites in the streets say, “We embrace black rage and attack privileged blue cities filled with white elite privilege.” Elites used pro-blackness as fancy perfume. Antifa uses pro-blackness as Molotov Cocktail. Elites want to pretend it’s mostly about ‘peaceful protesters’, but reality says otherwise. (Amusingly enough, the elites are trying to unite BLM with globo-homo in the hope that all that ‘gay’ stuff may pacify black rage somewhat. Don’t be so black with rage, wave the colorful rainbow with smiley face. And let’s sing about black trannies for a change.)

White America once seemed the model for all the world, but it has proven to be a delusion, something that can be discerned in HIGH AND LOW. What has this White America done in the post-WWII period? It ceded power to Jewish globalists and defined its essence as youth culture based on black rhythms. It favored short-term thrills over long-term virtue. Fast-forward to 2020, and White America is a trashy, soulless entity that either marches with globo-homo and BLM thuggery or cravenly cowers in the corner while its heritage, statues, monuments, and symbols are torn down everywhere. If this is the fate of White Americanism, why should any majority population follow down the same path? In a way, the white-cuck elites of the GOP are like post-war Japanese elites that played doggy to the US as long as they received regular doggy biscuits. GOP is now a useless cuck-party whose only purpose is to cower before Jews and play roll over as long as the cuck-collaborator insiders get their doggy treats. The White American Model to all the world is “Surrender your identity, body, and soul to the worship of Jewish globalists, decadent homos, and wild Negroes.”

This is why neither capitalism nor leftism can serve as the Core Principle of a People and Culture. Capitalism is useful as economic system, and leftism can do good by emphasizing some measure of equal justice and people’s interests. But capitalism ultimately comes down to ‘muh profits’, and leftism, in its puritanical obsession with justice-and-more-justice, ends up waging endless war on all culture and tradition that doesn’t satisfy the latest demands. (What capitalism and leftism have in common is a kind of radical amnesia that emphasizes the hype-or-passion-of-the-moment at the expense of all else.) Thus, ideally capitalism and leftism must revolve around something else. It’s no wonder that Jews have chosen a kind of national-socialism for themselves while pushing either soulless capitalism(or libertarianism) or ‘leftism’ on everyone else. Libertarian whites will never unite as white people as they’re all about ‘muh individualism’, and ‘leftist’ whites will be too obsessed with stamping out ‘white privilege’ and ‘racism’ to ever develop a sense of white identity or white culture. As for conservatism, it can only say ‘oh, please stop’, as Bill Buckley did. Only neo-fascism can save a people, and that is why Jews, despite all their diatribes against ‘fascism’, practice a form of fascism for themselves. But it’s a bad kind like German National Socialism because it’s imperialist and supremacist than national-humanist. Still, Jews understand the need to fuse respect for Jewish tradition/identity with some measure of individualism and acceptance of modernity. It's not an accident that Jewish Power is founded on both traditional tribalism and modern individualism.

One thing that might disturb some viewers about HIGH AND LOW is the mention of capital punishment as just desserts for the kidnapper. The inspector played by Tatsuya Nakadai is presented as an admirable character, and it is his idea to convict Takeuchi on murder as well, thereby sending him to the gallows than merely have him serve fifteen years for holding a child hostage. Was Kurosawa okay with capital punishment? If so, maybe it had something to do with his samurai background. After all, Japanese culture is one where it’s worth dying for honor. Then, death is surely an option for a unrepentant psychotic punk.

It is also an avant garde cinematic experiment—in fact a whole series of them—a fact that most viewers are too enthralled to even notice. It really sneaks up on you.

Kurosawa’s modernist touches were only that: touches. HIGH AND LOW has traditional narrative conventions with heightened style, but it is far from avant-garde, which reached its artistic peaks with Hiroshi Teshigahara’s FACE OF ANOTHER and perhaps Yoshishige Yoshida’s EROS + MASSACRE, which isn’t easy watching. Seijun Suzuku got canned for his avant-garde experiment BRANDED TO KILL and later returned to modernism with the TAISHO TRILOGY. There is a fresh and exciting quality to HIGH AND LOW, and one can find seeds of movies like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, which too is essentially conventional storytelling. HIGH AND LOW is even less avant-garde than THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and DR. STRANGELOVE, both of which stick mostly with conventional narrative form.

Now, some people think modernism is part of a linear progression, something more ‘advanced’. But while modernism created whole new possibilities and pushed boundaries, the arts can’t be judged like science. We can value Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky, but the notion that their works are ‘more advanced’ than those of Sandro Botticelli and Richard Wagner is one of those unfortunate conceits that did much to undermine art and creativity. Consider the damage done to serious music by university departments controlled by modernists who insisted on certain ‘radical’ schools of music as the ‘most advanced’. Modernism is most painful when those who don’t really get it apply it inappropriately to works that don’t have a genuine modernist bone in its body… like Kurosawa’s ridiculous color schemes in DODES’KA-DEN.

Perhaps, Kurosawa got confused with modernism because of RASHOMON with its unusual(at the time) chronology. But in fact, Kurosawa gave a rather conventional treatment to a genuine piece of modernist writing by Akutagawa. To be sure, Kurosawa did revolutionize film-making. No one had done action like Kurosawa in SEVEN SAMURAI, a hugely influential film. And YOJIMBO’s sardonic sensibility was new in cinema. And in films like IKIRU, HIGH AND LOW, DERSU UZALA, and later RAN, Kurosawa chose the somewhat unconventional approach of reaching the dramatic peak before the first half and then spending the rest of the film to return, re-examine, and/or resolve the issues. In the more conventional dramatics of SEVEN SAMURAI, the tension builds and builds until reaching crescendo in the final scene. In IKIRU, HIGH AND LOW, DERSU UZALA, and RAN, the emotional peak is reached in the first third or half of the film, and for that reason, some viewers might find the rest rather anticlimactic. Stanley Kauffmann much admired IKIRU but thought the long funeral scene where the guests piece the puzzle together overlong and redundant. The emotional peak of DERSU UZALA is when the Goldi hunter bids farewell to the Russian explorers, and as the result, the story following the reunion unfolds more like a long aftermath than second act. RAN reaches its emotional peak in the first hour, and the rest, like APOCALYPSE NOW following the helicopter raid, tends to meander in search of shape and meaning. HIGH AND LOW is feverish drama in the first hour, and the rest of the film is about picking up the pieces and is markedly different in tone from the first act and half. Alfred Hitchcock did something similar with PSYCHO where the seemingly lead character is killed off in the first third, followed by the rest that’s about piecing together the puzzle.
IKIRU - 1952
The first hour of HIGH AND LOW is clearly the best. The final twenty minutes are pretty suspenseful. But the second hour is problematic. It is good cinema but only good. Perhaps, Kurosawa should have balanced the second hour more between the police and the kidnapper. Also, instead of presenting the police as so cool and professional, it would have been more interesting to dramatize them with warts and all(as every police department has its own problems and failings). And it would have been better if Takeuchi was examined a bit more than kept as a cipher with a troubled soul. He’s presented more as a cold-blooded reptile than a sick-souled man. Kurosawa said the artist he admires most is Dostoevsky but he missed a Dostoevskyian opportunity. At best, the kidnapper is Dostoevskyian only on the surface.
The police work may remind us of the head samurai’s preparations in SEVEN SAMURAI. He surveys the nearby region, scours for weak spots, draws up a map, and pools resources to devise a plan of battle. Still, it’s more compelling in SEVEN SAMURAI than in HIGH AND LOW. But that may owe largely to the fact that defense of a village is simpler and clearer than navigating a huge city for tidbits of clues that may lead to the criminal. Protecting a haystack is simpler than finding a needle in one. In SEVEN SAMURAI, the planners know what they are defending. In HIGH AND LOW, the planners have too many ideas and too few leads. A far more challenging and elusive task.

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