Throughout his career, director Akira Kurosawa regularly brought his distinctively Eastern vision to Western cinematic elements, with fascinating results. But whereas Kurosawa's best-known films, including 1950's Rashomon and 1961's Yojimbo, tend to be set in a medieval Japan strode by samurai, 1963's High and Low is a contemporary crime tale, albeit one whose moral complications echo themes in his other work.
Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa's favorite leading man, stars as Mr. Gondo, a shoe-company executive whose plans to seize power at his firm are thrown into chaos when a man kidnaps the son of his chauffeur — and then threatens to kill the boy if Gondo doesn't pay. The film's opening section is a virtual one-act play, with Gondo practically torn asunder by conflicting emotions, whereas the second half turns into a police procedural that pushes him off stage for significant stretches. Given the power of Mifune's volcanic performance, that's unfortunate — but the investigation is handled with such precision and clarity that it's enthralling in and of itself. The movie cuts deep, even though there's not a sword in sight.
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High and Low screens Monday, March 9, at 7 p.m. at the Boulder Public Library, 1000 Canyon Boulevard; admission is free. Get details at 303-441-3100 or www.boulder.lib.co.us.