High and Low (Tengoku to Jigoku) (1963)

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Released 21-Jun-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Booklet-Essay by Dr. Adrian Danks
Trailer-Tokyo Story; An Autumn Afternoon; Early Summer
Trailer-Ikiru; Seven Samurai
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1963
Running Time 137:20 (Case: 143)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (80:12) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Akira Kurosawa
Madman Entertainment
Starring Toshirô Mifune
Tatsuya Nakadai
Kyôko Kagawa
Tatsuya Mihashi
Isao Kimura
Kenjiro Ishiyama
Takeshi Katô
Takashi Shimura
Jun Tazaki
Nobuo Nakamura
Yûnosuke Itô
Tsutomu Yamazaki
Minoru Chiaki
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Masaru Satô

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    At Japan's leading shoe manufacturer, National Shoes, it's most certainly not business as usual. The board are in bitter disagreement regarding the company's future. Should they reduce quality to maximise income? Factory boss Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is dead against any move that may compromise the company's good reputation, so he secretly stakes everything on a leading share in the business. The deal is sealed and glasses are charged in celebration, only to have the rug pulled completely from under him when his chauffeur's son is mistakenly kidnapped instead of his own boy. Coughing up the ransom could ruin him for good and he has no other means to raise the 30 Million Yen ransom. Could he possibly risk everything for someone else's child?

    Based on the pulp novel King's Ransom by American Ed McBain, Kurosawa's High and Low (Tengoku to Jigoku) transports the book's cold, wintry action to a Japanese setting in blistering summer heat. Contrasts abound between air conditioned buildings such as Gondo's stately home in the hills to the sweltering city streets below where we imagine the kidnapper hiding out. Their typical avenues of investigation lead the police to ask whether Gondo has any enemies that might commit such a crime. "Too many to count!" comes one reply, which initially points detectives to a suspect on Gondo's white collar level. The viewer accompanies Gondo and the police through the detailed investigation and the involvement of the press, as each piece of evidence is meticulously dissected.

    The literal English translation of the title is actually Heaven and Hell. Many critics have lauded this as one of Kurosawa's most underrated efforts, and I am inclined to agree. The quality of direction is up to Kurosawa's great standard, especially the gritty depiction of Tokyo, its alleys clogged with hoards of zombie-like junkies. Kurosawa's use of the wide frame is second to none, as can be seen in most of the indoor scenes where there is character interaction going on from one side of the screen to the other. Many of the shots are so richly and meticulously composed this is an absolute feast to watch, not to mention the stellar on screen pairing of Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai (Harakiri), who plays the Chief Inspector. The kidnapper, played by Tsutomu Yamazaki has an unnerving, robotic physicality that instantly reminded me of Robert Patrick in Terminator 2.

    During the film's finale the kidnapper states that "it's interesting to make fortunate men unfortunate". This statement interested me. As Australians, we virtually pride ourselves on cutting down the tall poppies, while the ever popular tabloid media thrives on stories of the celebrity who has fallen on hard times. I wonder if with this line Kurosawa was trying to make the viewer feel a little guilty. After all, we were just entertained for more than two hours while the main character lost everything he owned.

    Whether you're a fan of Kurosawa's work or if you simply like a good crime story, this film is an absolute must.

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Transfer Quality


    In the timeline of Kurosawa's catalogue, High and Low was produced in 1963 between Sanjuro and Red Beard. Although the film is more than forty years old, this transfer to DVD is not quite as impressive as others of this vintage. Still, the image is certainly a PAL one, is relatively stable and there are not too many issues to report.

    The transfer is presented in the film's original Tohoscope ratio of 2.35:1, complete with 16x9 enhancement. The image is pillar boxed, that is to say there are black bars on the left and right of the screen. Viewers applying overscan to the image via their CRT or other monitor are not likely to be bothered by this.

    I should point out that this is a black and white film, however there is an ingenious use of colour towards the finale. I won't explain any further to avoid creating a spoiler - suffice it to say that the appearance of the single colour is plot related and very surprising. Many other reviews don't mention this facet of the film, which is surprising.

    The image is relatively sharp and shows a good degree of detail. Contrast is a little uneven, unfortunately. Some brighter objects appear quite bloomy, such as at the 9:00 mark, the floral patterns on Mrs. Gondo's white kimono are barely visible. Similarly, the men's white business shirts are so bright that it is difficult to see any folds or creases in the fabric during some scenes. Other scenes contain some strange, shadow-like vertical ghosting, appearing as dark or bright halos above actor's heads. This artefact reminded me of some transfers I have seen that were derived from monochrome videotape. I also noted a number of scenes that appear to be vertically stretched, such as at 12:40. This may be the director's intention as it is also mentioned in the essay, covered in the extras below.

    As far as film artefacting is concerned, I was impressed. Specks of dust and dirt are very well controlled and I didn't notice any dire film damage. MPEG compression is never an issue. I recognised a few moments of slight instability or telecine wobble, usually situated around cuts or reel changes. The source print is otherwise in good condition.

    An English subtitle stream is activated by default. The text is very easy to read and comprised of a rounded grey font, however some Americanisms are present such as recognize instead of recognise. There is one line of text that flashes on screen much too quickly to be read at 38:35, translating a newspaper headline.

    This disc is dual layered, with the layer transition placed during the feature at a wipe between scenes at 80:12. The transition may be noticeable to some viewers as it interrupts motion on screen.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks accompanying this film on DVD, both of which are presented in the film's original Japanese language. The default soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s). The alternate audio option, my preferred, is Dolby Digital 4.0 (448Kb/s) and is comprised of audio channels for the front left, front centre, front right and a single channel for surround information.

    The dialogue is always dominant and easy to discern in the mix. I didn't note any ADR or audio sync issues in the slightest.

    The mono soundtrack is perfectly serviceable and doesn't contain any glaringly obvious hiccoughs, dropouts or clicks. I noticed a few moments of slight pitch wavering, usually during passages of music, but these were few and to be expected given the age of the film.

    The four-channel audio mix is surprisingly good. Much of the soundtrack is spread across the front left, right and centre channels, with dialogue usually occupying the centre. I noticed a few examples of panning to the left and right, for certain effects and noises. The surround channel is used to carry the score at times, as well as some atmospherics and the like. At 115:00 the surround channels come alive with noise to suit the atmosphere of a busy nightclub during that scene.

    In comparing the two soundtracks, I felt that the four channel option was far superior. The mono audio has a harsh edge to it, while the four channel option is easier on the viewer, with the finer subtleties in the soundtrack much easier to discern overall.

    The score by Masaru Sato is orchestrated, but contains elements of traditional Japanese folk music. I found the theme particularly haunting - it lends the film an eerie, almost supernatural quality.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are a few small extras on the disc. The galleries and trailers are not 16x9 enhanced.


    The menu pages are 16x9 enhanced and the main menu page is animated with small clips from the film. An audio clip of the film's haunting score loops in the background.

Gallery- Stills (3:07)

    This is a short piece of video that pans and zooms across several key stills from the film. A clip of the film's excellent score by Masaru Sato is featured in the background.

Gallery- Poster Art (0:42)

    A closer look at a couple of original posters for the film, with Japanese text. The graphic art is nice and an audio clip plays in the background.

Trailers (5)

    Trailers for other films in Madman's commendable Director's Suite series include Tokyo Story; An Autumn Afternoon; Early Summer; Ikiru and Seven Samurai. These are preceded by an anti-piracy advertisement. I applaud Madman for relegating this annoyingly repetitive piece to the trailer section where it can be of minimal intrusion to honest consumers.

Booklet (Colour, 20 pages)

    This excellent, glossy booklet includes stills from the film and an essay Between Heaven and Hell: Adapting to Spaces, Bodies and Emotions in Kurosawa's High and Low by Dr. Adrian Danks of RMIT University. It's a very good read and besides discussing the film's placement in history it offers some interpretations that I had not considered on my first viewing of the film. I must also add that Danks' direct poke at Chuck Stephens' essay from the Region 1 Criterion release made me chuckle.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 Criterion release (NTSC, 143:15) has a slightly higher video bitrate of 7.1Mb/s, but is not 16x9 enhanced. Some screen captures suggest that the image is heavily cropped on the left and right. This cropping is not present in the Region 4 transfer.

    The Region 2 UK disc by BFI has an NTSC transfer and a runtime identical to the Region 1. The only soundtrack on the disc is mono.

    When comparing with screen captures of other regions, ours looks very similar to the Region 2. Our image is not as sharp as the Criterion, however the contrast and tone of the Region 2 source certainly matches ours. It's likely both transfers are derived from the same source, provided by Toho.

    Also, note that the Region 4 cover slick incorrectly lists the Region 1 (NTSC) runtime.

    Region 4 is the way to go for now.


    High and Low is a superb study of a man who risks everything for a kidnapped child. It's also a great crime story to boot, and with Kurosawa at the helm you can't go wrong.

    The video transfer is good, considering the age of the film.

    The audio transfer includes an immersive surround option.

    The extras are few, but the booklet is a winner.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Friday, August 18, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector, Screen Technics Cinemasnap 96" (16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Don't Bank on it. - REPLY POSTED
2.55:1 vs 2.35:1 -