Film directed by Akira Kurosawa and written by Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Masato Ide and William Shakespeare
Things change. When I started writing You’ve Got to Check This Out, I started building a list of topics. They included songs and movies and books and all those other things that felt appropriate. A few months in, I decided to lead with the name of the person, instead of the work (i.e., William Faulkner instead of The Sound and the Fury). With a few exceptions for places or technology, that has worked out.
About the same time, I discovered that I had listed more than enough topics to fill out my intended 300 blogs. So, I did what I do and organized matters. Except I kept the original listings- sometimes a name and sometimes a thing. As I sit down today, I look ahead and see that I have listed multiple movies by Akira Kurosawa: High and Low also appears, but I could have included Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Rashomon, Throne of Blood,… Of course, there are also the movies that his films inspired: Star Wars (The Hidden Fortress) and The Magnificent Seven (Seven Samurai).
This is my favorite film.Saying you like Akira Kurosawa is like saying you like Alfred Hitchcock, Leonardo Da Vinci, or The Beatles. These are all monumental cultural presences who produced voluminous work at times when their chosen art form had wide distribution. (All right, Da Vinci is a slight exception, but his work, like the rest, was created in a format that has lasted.) You have to close yourself off in order to find nothing to like in all of their work. They may not be a favorite, but somewhere in their catalogs is a creation that works for you.
Because Hollywood does not really do samurai films, Kurosawa is primarily associated with that genre in the U.S. Film festivals and repertory cinemas show the samurai movies. So, High and Low feels like more of a revelation than it is within Kurosawa’s body of work.
As a suspense mystery, it is unusual in structure. Like all the best art, the story is brilliant and also a commentary on the world. Each shot serves multiple purposes, as we expect from Kurosawa. Perhaps because it feels like he is working on a context we know (film noir), the skill truly shines through. Americans watch a lot of cop shows, so we know what we’re dealing with here. We are more bound to lose ourselves in a samurai film before we can fully appreciate the artistry.
Introducing The Hidden Fortress on DVD, George Lucas talks about having to go to a special showing back in the day. I somehow doubt Kurosawa envisioned an American audience while making most of his films. The wonder of his art is the universality that he captured. Like the best westerns and noir, Kurosawa’s messages speak to everyone.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 150 more to go.
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