Mise en scene is a stylistic form of filming that is French for “staging the shot”, which is referring to everything in front of the camera. Director Kurosawa understood this style and used it in High and Low (Kurosawa, 1962). He used several Mise en scene techniques such as closed composition, space manipulation, and lighting to compliment the crime thriller story.
Closed composition is one of the main themes that Kurosawa uses throughout the movie. He chooses to keep the scenes tight and in close quarters mostly. This is seen predominately in the first half on the movie. Here the action takes place in Mr. Gondo’s house on top of a hill. The viewer has very little idea that there is much of a world outside the house. This idea is supported when Mr. Gondo has to close all the drapes in the house to prevent the kidnapper from looking into the house. This gives a mood and feeling of anxiety from being enclosed. Also, shots of the house sitting on top of the hill give the feeling of loneliness. This feeling is repeated in the bullet train sequence where the quarters are much smaller. The viewer is somewhat relieved with the view of the outside, but because of the close quarters and the sense of a speeding train, it does not allow the viewer to enjoy the openness the windows provide. A scene that clearly shows the Mise en scene style is the next day comes and Mr. Gondo must now decide whether to pay the ransom or not. We see and hear the argument with Mr. Gondo and Mrs. Gondo, with Mr. Aoki crying to the far left of the scene. Soon the dialog ends and we see Mr. Aoki still to the far left, Mrs. Gondo with Jun in the middle, and Mr. Gondo to the far right. Clearly separating them are the detectives who are standing silently with their heads down. The placement of the detectives manipulates the space in the scene into thirds. It also helps in emphasizing the differences between the three characters regarding what should be done about getting Mr. Aoki’s son back from the kidnapper.
In the scene where two of the detectives find the man and woman dead, we see the detectives enclosed in the window of the house where, we the viewers are looking in. This is the closed form composition, which is used to help focus the viewers’ attention on the characters. In doing so, the characters’ surprise reactions...
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...arly being used as a separation between Mr. Gondo and the police. That, with the combination of the lack of furniture, along with the predominance of white created by the light in the house enforces the tone of emptiness and loneliness that the viewer feels.
Finally, the last few scenes show desperation by the kidnapper. Mr. Gondo and the kidnapper are sitting across from each other in a closed off room. The room gives the feeling of being trapped along with the wire mesh and window separating them. Here the viewer can see the reflection of whom the character is talking to so that we can see the expression from what is being said. Plus by being in such a small room, the emotions seem to be increased as the kidnapper releases his own emotions to Mr. Gondo.
We have seen that Kurosawa used many techniques of the mise en scene throughout High and Low. The use of the closed stylistic form along with the lighting and space manipulation of characters and objects help increase the intense emotion of the film as well as help the viewer focus on key points and characters. This ultimately moved the story forward and complimented the crime thriller categorization of the film.
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