CD: High and Low - Soundtrack


High and Low - Soundtrack

Japanese CD Title

天国と地獄 - High and Low
[Tengoku to Jigoku - High and Low]

Music By:
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Masaru Sato
Toho Music

Based On:

High and Low



By: Anthony Romero

Thanks to Jessica Stan for sending this in.

This CD marks the first time the full score for High and Low by Masaru Sato has been made available. While the soundtrack isn’t the most engaging, Toho Music goes above and beyond to give a stellar presentation to it and allows the listener to follow through with all the changes and inspirations that came together to create it.

First and foremost, this score isn’t the most engaging as a stand alone experience. The movie itself is excellent, starting off as feeling more pedestrian until it gets darker and darker near the end to really sell the stakes and danger present. That said, much of the movie is silent or functions through very brief motifs. “To Protect Shinkansen” is a perfect example of this. It’s a short theme that gets overused in the context of the soundtrack, as it’s heard in stuff like “Tokura's Determination” and the “Search March” as well, which funnily enough are unused tracks as the final movie decided to just use edits of “To Protect Shinkansen” in their place.

There are some lively tracks in the mix, though. One of those is “O Sole Mio”, a lyric-less version of an old Italian folk song by Alfredo Mazzucchi. However, this doesn’t appear to be stock but rather Masaru Sato’s take on it. Infusing it with some contemporary, big band style, the track is one of the better on the disc. In fact, the most engaging tracks come from themes that are tagged as background music or radio music. For example, another great one is “Music Downtown (Special)”. This is an old-timey style track, not contemporary at all by 1963 but would have sounded right at home on Main Street at Disneyland. “Music at the Bar (Special)” is also another great track, which has a slight adventure undertone as it borrows some elements from Sato’s work on Samurai Pirate (1963).

Now this leads us into the genesis and future impact of the material here. First, it should be understood that the popular composers in the Japanese film industry were overworked. They had to do score after score. Some, like Akira Ifukube, weathered this by using similar theme motifs over and over again. In the case of Sato, he weathered this by occasionally using a stock theme or two from his earlier work as needed. This can be seen in two themes here, as he lifts from the war movie Operation X (1962) and H-Man (1958) respectively. The latter is impossible to miss for English audiences, as the English song “The Magic Begins” becomes so ingrained in viewers from watching the late 1950’s monster movie that it’s surprising to hear it reused in an Akira Kurosawa movie. Speaking of future use, this movie also features the original source for what would become the theme that plays when Godzilla fights the Red Bamboo Jets in Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966). Here it’s called “Music at the Bar (Supervisor)”, and the theme feels natural for a go-go dance floor at a lounge and I will never understand how it ended up in a battle sequence involving Godzilla. The other future forward track is “Ending” here, a more somber cue that captures perfectly the emotional impact the final moments have on the viewer. This theme would also see use in Sato’s science fiction material, although in this case it became a prominent focus in the Submersion of Japan (1973) trailer.

In terms of this release in particular, Toho Music has gone above and beyond. They include first the mono score, complete with stock/source music and unused tracks. This is then followed by the original stereo score as well, which features the tracks that would eventually replace the unused material. Afterwards comes demos and alternate takes. A few of these are strange, like the “cheers only” track for the crowd and the “breathing only” track for the “The Suffering of a Drug Addict”, which is literally just labored breathing. These are more sound effect tracks than anything. An interesting alternate take here is “Swan Lake” by Peter Tchaikovsky. This was Sato’s interpretation of the theme and based on the cue number it appears it would have been the theme for the introduction to the movie’s villain and looking at their living conditions. This was ultimately replaced by “Trout” by Franz Schubert, a wise choice as the latter feels very proper and prestigious, acting as an obvious counterpoint to the reality of how he was living.

Overall, this isn’t the most engaging stand alone experience, but Toho Music has gone above and beyond to really elevate the material with their presentation here. It’s very thorough, giving an almost archival view of all the work that went into the final movie score.

As a side note, I’m not sure why Toho Music calls the M9 track something different for the mono versus stereo portion. In the mono selection this track is called “The Real Culprit” while in the stereo portion it’s called “Suspect”. It’s also worth bringing up that the cue number system feels half hearted, as some tracks have the take numbers on them and some don’t. Also, technically the first track is “Title Background” (タイトル・バック), but elected to use the more normal “Main Title” in translating.

Rating: Star Rating


  1. Main Title (M1)
  2. To Protect Shinkansen (M2)
  3. Trout (Radio Music • R1)
    By: Franz Schubert
  4. Tokura's Determination (Unused • M4-T2)
  5. Chinatown (Operation X M20)
  6. The Search Continues (Unused • M5)
  7. Aoki Shadows (M6)
  8. News Article (Unused • M7-T4)
  9. Pink Colored Smoke (M8)
  10. The Real Culprit (M9-T2)
  11. Search March (Unused • M10)
  12. Music Downtown (Special • M11)
  13. Music Downtown (Supervisor • M12)
  14. The Magic Begins (H-Man PS2)
    By: Martha Miyake
  15. Music at the Bar (Special • M13)
  16. Music at the Bar (Supervisor • M14)
  17. The Suffering of a Drug Addict (M15 + M15A)
  18. Cruel Experiment (M16)
  19. O Sole Mio (Radio Music • M17)
  20. Ending (M18)

    Stereo Tracks
  21. Main Title (M1)
  22. To Protect Shinkansen (M2)
  23. Tokura's Determination (M2 Edit)
  24. Aoki Shadows I (M6)
  25. Aoki Shadows II (M7 Coda Only)
  26. News Article (M2 Edit)
  27. Pink Colored Smoke (M8)
  28. Suspect (M9)
  29. Music Downtown (Special • M11)
  30. Music at the Bar (Special • M13)
  31. Music at the Bar (Supervisor • M14)
  32. The Suffering of a Drug Addict (M15 + M15A)
  33. O Sole Mio (Radio Music • M17)
  34. Ending (M18)

    Demo Material
  35. Music at the Bar (Supervisor • M14 with Cheers)
  36. Music at the Bar (Supervisor • M14 Cheers Only)
  37. The Suffering of a Drug Addict (M15 Orchestra)
  38. The Suffering of a Drug Addict (M15A Breathing Only)

    Alternate Takes
  39. Main Title (M1-T1)
  40. To Protect Shinkansen (M2-T2)
  41. To Protect Shinkansen (M2-T3 with Strings)
  42. To Protect Shinkansen (M2A)
  43. Swan Lake (Radio Music • M3)
    By: Peter Tchaikovsky
  44. Swan Lake (Radio Music • M3-T3)
    By: Peter Tchaikovsky
  45. Swan Lake (Radio Music • M3-T1)
    By: Peter Tchaikovsky
  46. Swan Lake (Radio Music • M3-T4)
    By: Peter Tchaikovsky
  47. Search March (M10-T2)
  48. Search March (M10-T3)
  49. Music at the Bar (Special • M13-T0 Rehearsal)
  50. Ending (M18-T1)