Wow. I don’t know why I continue to be surprised and amazed by Kurosawa. By this point I should know that I am going to be blown away just by the care and meticulousness that every film of his exhibits and yet this film left me awestruck.
I love the way the film transcends several genres at once and yet manages to stay cohesive and seamless at all times. It starts off seeming like a corporate thriller with the protagonist hinting at a secret that will put him in charge of the firm he is employed with. Then it quickly transforms into a story of kidnapping and ransom and becomes a noir police procedural that is full of intricacy and suspense. It finally ends up being not just one of the most impressive crime thrillers I’ve watched but also a subtle and nuanced commentary on social inequities and the consequences thereof.
I also love the way the film mirrors the dichotomy of the title in every detail. The first half of the film feels stagy and all the suspense is built within the walls of Gondo’s palatial, air-conditioned house atop a hill. The kids playing with one another come from two ends of the socio-economic spectrum and yet switch roles with consummate ease. The scenes are almost all long-shots with lots of characters standing still silently while one character rages in a monologue. Otoh, the second half is almost entirely outdoors. Here there’s lots of fast editing and close-ups. Everything feels a lot grimier and hotter and so much noisier in comparison to the first half. The train sequence which sort of divides the two halves is exhilarating to watch and reminded me of Hitchcock in all the best ways possible.
But what makes the film even more incredible to watch is the way the film reveals the psychological motivations of all the characters. Gondo’s decisions once he is faced with the tough choices that the kidnapper presents to him, the change in the way the cops perceive Gondo as the case progresses, the relationship between the Gondo and his employee and the chauffeur’s changing attitude over the course of the film. And all of this is almost subliminal and never overshadows the suspenseful plot that drives the film. I was a little torn about the ending. On the one hand, the kidnapper ends up handing out a really pat response as to his motivations for his actions. The explanation lacks the nuance that the rest of the film maintains so effortlessly. And yet, there is something so beautiful about the shot where Gondo’s face is reflected over the face of the kidnapper and we realize that they probably came from similar circumstances to begin with except that one managed to achieve wealth and success while the other didn’t. That the two are more alike than either of them had imagined.