Tsutomu Yamazaki did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ginjirô Takeuchi in High and Low.
I just gave High and Low my leading win for 1963 for Toshiro Mifune's great lead performance, but the film also has a terrific ensemble. The group of policemen distinguish themselves particularly well and each of their performances brings something to the film even though they very easily could have all faded together given the limited nature of their roles. The supporting player that I am focusing on though is not even seen until an hour into the film although he is heard. Tsutomu Yamazaki portrays the kidnapper who tries to extort 30 million yen from Mifune's King Gondo, and in the first hour we only hear his voice as he makes his threats as well as his demands.
Although it may seem slight Yamazaki does handle his voice work well setting up the right tone for who this kidnapper is even though we can't see him. He delivers the threats with a certain sly attitude that suggests that there is something personal to the man's attack on Gondo. Something interesting though is that after he is done making the phoned threats Yamazaki's performance goes from vocal only to a silent performance when we finally see him. Yamazaki's role is limited but he is still quite effective in these scenes. Above all he shows a very human villain his reactions as he looks over a paper about his work. Yamazaki expresses silently pride and sinister joy of his successful scheme, but as well an intense disappointment and hatred as he sees the public praising Gondo.
Yamazaki is extremely good in making Yamazaki three dimensional even though he is not saying a single thing. He gives the emotions of him in just these reactions the complexity they deserve. He makes apparent that there is a lot going on in this man and this kidnapping means something far deeper to him than a monetary gain. He is always very realistic in his portrayal and his Yamazaki always expresses what is going on in the man's mind in a compelling fashion. His silent performance though continues into a long and brilliant set of scenes that involves the cops trailing him as he goes about tying up the loose end of his two drug addict accomplishes. They trail him and we watch Takeuchi's moves as goes about preparing to cause an overdose in the two people.
Yamazaki is easily identified in every scene through a pair of dark black sunglasses and he makes for the perfect adversary in these scenes. As through his whole performance Yamazaki does suggests through subtle hints of perhaps some fear in the man, but most of it is overridden by his confidence. Yamazaki has a perfect cocky stride in these scenes as he goes from place to place suggesting perhaps that Takeuchi thinks this is just the end of his perfect plan. He very effective in showing the full extent of the smugness particularly in the scene where he by chance comes across Gondo and asks for a light. Yamazaki shows a distinct pleasure in the man as he seems to tease fate due to his perceived knowledge that he merely is completing the last step of his task.
Yamazaki is a very effective in being the villain in a very low key fashion in these scenes. He is quite chilling for example in the scene where he tests his drugs on an addict and kills her without a second thought. Yamazaki is cold and brutal in that scene by showing in Takeuchi's face that this is merely just a step in his plan. He is careful not to show pleasure in this very scene as why should Takeuchi get any in fact there may be the smallest pity suggested, but he perhaps is all the harsher in showing that Takeuchi commits this evil in such a base manner. This leads Takeuchi though to finally bring the drugs and finish the plan and it is brilliant scene for Yamazaki. He starts out with quiet happiness seeing that he has gotten to the end of his plan, then that shifts to a more serious but casual showing knowing he will need to get down to business with his accomplishments who he clearly has no respect for, but then it finishes as he finds himself in the police trap. Yamazaki is amazing as his shifts to a full on disbelief and fear knowing that all his planning has meant nothing.
As much as I love that scene it seems like nothing compared to his final scene where Takeuchi is soon going to be hanged and comes face to face with King Gondo. We have only had glimpses of the man before this point and Yamazaki has had to certainly take minimalistic approach, this is his first and only traditional sort of acting scene and Yamazaki does not waste it. He and Gondo meet in a small room alone separated by glass and as he first comes in Yamazaki plays him as the villain. Yamazaki gives him that smug face ready to stare down his enemy, waiting to see some hatred against him, but Gondo has no hatred in his face. Yamazaki portrays actually that it pains Takeuchi in seeing that Gondo does not hate him.
Takeuchi's motivation though is revealed to be that Gondo's house on the hill always seemed mocking him in his small shack below. Yamazaki is outstanding because he realizes this motivation honestly, as something that comes right from anger in his soul not anger for Gondo but an anger toward his lot in life. Yamazaki shows Takeuchi try to keep it all together as the cunning villain he wants to be but portrays that the fact that he is about to executed is always on his mind. Yamazaki actually manages to make this a heartbreaking moment as he realizes the fear in Takeuchi so powerfully, and creates a truly impressive dynamic though as he shows that Takeuchi still tries to stay the villain through his indignant tone he attempts to keep up up until the point when the fear overwhelms him completely. It is an incredible scene as Yamazaki makes us feel sorry for a villain who wanted to brought to justice throughout the rest of the film. It is no wonder that Kurosawa decided to scrap a single scene after this one because of the strength of Yamazaki's performance. The more I think about Yamazaki's work the better it gets. This is a great performance and despite the limitations put upon Yamazaki, he creates a complex character that ends up being so much even while having so little.