Après-guerre Japan, humiliatingly disarmed and "ready to collapse from anxiety," as sweltering needle-in-haystack procedural. The literally loaded MacGuffin is a snub-nosed pistol pinched in a crowded bus, the greenhorn homicide detective (Toshiro Mifune) desperately combs the underworld for it in the midst of a blasting heat wave. His journey into the black market is a clammy panorama of vagabonds, molls, yakuza dandies and chorines, with each pungent vignette leading closer to the trigger-happy war vet (Isao Kimura), the investigator’s despairing doppelganger. "Maybe there are no bad people, only bad situations," Mifune ponders, the alternative Self encountered. "Leave that psychoanalysis to the detective novels," advises his older, wiser partner (Takashi Shimura). Akira Kurosawa at a stylistic junction with Hollywood: what he takes from Hathaway (Call Northside 777) and Dassin (The Naked City) he passes on to Kazan (Panic in the Streets) and Fuller (Pickup on South Street). Driving forward even as the characters wander in circles, his camera is all swift pans and hard curves, one sinewy composition after another. A long take of Mifune sharing a beer with an affably hardboiled pickpocket (melancholy harmonica player in the foreground) unfolds as a languid dolly-in casually punctuated by a glimpse of a summer night’s starry sky. The detective and his quarry leave the humid city behind for a grueling showdown in the woods, where a hint of conventional aestheticism (a single drop of blood on a pale blossom) is promptly and drolly deflated (a woman watches the macho duel from a distance, shrugs, and goes back to her piano lesson). It all builds to the image of a pair of contorted, exhausted torsos manacled together in the flower field, with a singing children’s excursion crossing in the background. Edwards has the baseball-stadium stakeout in Experiment in Terror, Spielberg the culprit’s revelation (a row of white shoes, one pair mud-stained) in Duel. Kurosawa himself reworks and deepens the search in High and Low. With Keiko Awaji, Gen Shimizu, Teruko Kishi, Eiko Miyoshi, Reikichi Kawamura, Noriko Sengoku, and Reisaburo Yamamoto. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce