high & low

This film by the Japanese maestro is anadaptation of Ed McBain's novel, King's Ransom. The story is characterized by ironic symmetries. A shoe-manufacturing executive is about the close a deal that will put him in charge of a large company; he has nearly secured the last amount of funds to buy out the management. Suddenly word comes that his son is missing,and a telephone call confirms that the child has been kidnapped. However, it happens that the kidnapper has mistaken the chauffer's son for the industrialist's. Although his son is safe, the industrialist is pursuaded by his wife and the police that his moral obligation extends to his chauffer's son. The ransom turns out to be exactly the amount of money he needed for the take-over. The kidnapper surveils the home, a modernist villa perched on the hills skirting the city of Yokohama, from the city below. His powerful telescope cuts a wedge through the glass-fronted room, and the police, whoarrive disguised as laundry-men, must scuttle below the shadow line created by the edge of the balcony. The subsequent payment of the ransom and search for the kidnapper take place within the "blind labyrinth" of the city, where the child's evidence of remembered light conditions and sounds triangulate the kidnapper's hideout.


The bolagram forms a reasonably accurate, if schematic, "site section" that contrasts the horizontal civic maze of Yokohama, with its "low life" of industry, economic struggle, and criminals, and the high point occupied by the industrialist's villa, which proves not to be immune from attack from below. The striking symmetry of the story has to do with the Lacanian "lack of the Big Other" (A), identical to the "objet petit a" that, in this case, is the ransom equal to the money needed for the company takeover. The "objet petit a" is versatile: its initial role as "lack of the Big Other" is displaced into the hiding-place of the kidnapper, the invisible point of observation that cuts a swath of visibility through the villa.

Anamorphosis is a prominent legislator in this film. The son of the chauffer and the son of the industrialist are indistinguishable in their costume of cowboy and indian. The theme of disguise is continued with the arrival of the police in a laundry van. The family must remain visible to the kidnapper's telescope view, but must coordinate their actions with the police, who crouch below the telescope's shadow line.

Action in the "underworld" of the city of Yokohama is predicatable through the bolagram as site section. The object of the search, finding the kidnapper, is done as though the police are blind. They must interpolate sounds and light angles remembered by the recovered child. The "invisibility within visibility" at the low part of the drama reverses the "visibility within invisiblity" that had structuredthe scenes shot at the villa. The return of the missing 'a' to the Other (A) is appropriately Lacanian. The industrialist faces the kidnapper when the kidnapper is captured and jailed. A metal screen separates them, but they stare at each other in silence, each aware of the enormity of the act that has enveloped them and made them indistinguishable in their suffering.

© 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved