The script.

In 1963, film scholar Donald Richie wrote an article for Films and Filming magazine in which he put the question to the master director:

Recently, I asked him, if he had to choose among them, which was most important, the script, the actual shooting, or the editing. He told me: “All three, naturally; still, if the script is no good, then it doesn’t matter how well you shoot or edit.”

The article is reproduced in the Criterion edition of High and Low, a rare Kurosawa film set in contemporary times. Despite the modern setting, this kidnapping story still has Kurosawa’s unmistakeable painterly eye. A dark sequence, where the villain of the film walks down an alleyway filled with junkies is, I think, about as close as Kurosawa ever got to making a zombie movie. And in this black-and-white film there is a single, powerful use of color that I believe must have inspired Steven Spielberg’s famous sequence in Schindler’s List with the girl in the red coat.

In the same article, Richie also talks to Kurosawa about his approach to covering a scene:

“Why do you use multiple cameras?”

“I don’t—I usually only use two, though I have used three. But wait until I do the finale of this film, the scene where the ransom money is paid. It occurs on an express train, and I am using nine cameras.”

“Nine cameras? Simultaneously?”

“Yes, I figured that that is the minimum to get what I want, and of course it will be filmed on a real express train, really moving.”

On one of the documentaries on the disc, you’ll learn that one of the nine cameras malfunctioned. But the sequence still turned out phenomenal, thanks to the editing. It is truly a masterclass in cinematic suspense. It boggles my mind that Kurosawa and his associates were able to pull it off… in one go… in real time.