High and Low (1963)
An executive of a shoe company becomes a victim of extortion when his chauffeur's son is kidnapped and held for ransom.
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Memorable, crazy movie
Best movie of this year hands down!
it is finally so absorbing because it plays like a lyrical road odyssey that’s also a detective story.
The first must-see film of the year.
Kurosawa made such good movies, even gems like these get ignored. Though filmed in 1963, it holds up really well even today and doesn't feel like a old movie because it was way ahead of it's time. The Kidnapping itself was orchestrated so well, it led to rise in Kidnappings in Japan post the movie's release. The movie must be watched for another reason, the Police procedure. It's depicted with realism, intensity, yet it never becomes complex for an average viewer. The best thing about Kurosawa, much like Ray, is the fact, his movies are simple yet so powerful, and are accessible to everybody. Highly recommended.
Up till now I've only seen Toshiro Mifune in Kurosawa's samurai movies, so it was kind of comical to see and hear him in this film when he stated "Shoes are my life". It just struck me as rather funny, but then, almost on a dime, Mifune's character Kingo Gondo reacted to his young son playing cowboys with a friend by stating that in a tense situation, "Man must kill or be killed". That had to be a subliminal rationale for Gondo's decision to wrest control of his National Shoe Company away from the owner and executive board. Borrowing against everything he owned, he was about to make a business deal that would have set him up for life.The first half of this movie sets up a moral dilemma for Gondo after a kidnapping gone awry puts him in the position of having to come up with a thirty million yen ransom, not for his own son, but for the son of his chauffeur. Without having knowledge of the Japanese mindset, I had trouble understanding why Gondo would have refused to pay the ransom if it meant his son's friend might be faced with death at the hands of a maniacal kidnapper. Granted, we had insight on the strings Gondo had to pull in order to put together the takeover plan for his company, but to my mind, the scales were balanced in favor of saving the kid. It was interesting to see how it was Gondo's wife and chauffeur who appealed to his better nature and not the police detectives assigned to the kidnapping case. Chief Inspector Tokura (Tatsuya Nakadai) remained emotionally detached during these confrontations, which struck me as somewhat odd.What's also intriguing is how the film switches gears in the second half after the ransom demand is finally met, and the police begin their work to solve the crime and capture the kidnapper. The forensic work of the detectives is quite significant in scope, taking into account such features as train schedules, landscape, locations of phone booths near Gondo's home, and the recollections of the young kidnap victim who was released after the ransom was paid. Having identified the perpetrator however, I was left stymied as to why the detective team failed to make an immediate move on Ginjiro Takeuchi (Tsutomu Yamazaki) when they had a chance more than once on the street. Since the apprehension was eventually made at a hideout location identified by Tokura, it didn't make sense to me why the police waited, other than as a concession to the script. Nothing of significance occurred with the kidnap suspect to suggest the cops should have delayed.The final sequence in which Takeuchi requested a face to face meeting with Gondo reminded me of a similar scene in the 1938 film "Angels With Dirty Faces". Only in that movie, Cagney's Rocky Sullivan went 'yellow' at the request of his childhood friend Father Jerry, whereas Takeuchi transformed from an arrogant and smug wise guy into that of a cowardly punk in the face of execution for the murder of his two associates in the kidnapping case. Except for Gondo appearing at the meeting with Takeuchi, the disappearance of Mifune's character in the second half of the story almost made it feel like one is watching a different movie.
HIGH AND LOW is one of the excellent contemporary thrillers that Akira Kurosawa made during the peak of his career. Unfortunately it's a sub-genre that seems mostly forgotten about today, passed over in favour of Kurosawa's well-renowned samurai movies. It's a shame because these films often have just as much to offer.HIGH AND LOW tells a detailed, lengthy story about a kidnapping and subsequent police investigation. It's a long and slow-moving film but one which rewards close submersion into the storyline and narrative. Toshiro Mifune is cast against type playing a hard-headed shoe factory boss whose son is kidnapped for ransom. However, the kidnapper gets his kids mixed up and accidentally kidnaps the chauffeur's son instead.What follows is tense, well-shot and superbly acted, as are the majority of the director's films. Mifune gives a bullishly realistic turn as the proud factory boss but it's Tatsuya Nakadai who really shines as the smooth detective brought in to solve the case. Watch out for Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura in the minor role of the police chief. Essentially HIGH AND LOW is a film in two parts, and the original Japanese title - HEAVEN AND HELL - gives some idea of Kurosawa's thematic ideas. Watching these characters descend into a literal and figurative Hell makes for unmissable cinema.
One of the all-time-great "procedurals," High and Low is a combination of immensely powerful psychodrama and exquisitely detailed police procedural - a movie that illuminates its world with a wholeness and complexity you rarely see in film. The images populate the widescreen frame like a pressure cooker that is ready to blow up. And in High and Low, blow up they do!The opening action is entirely set in Gondo's claustrophobic luxurious house, high up in the hill above the city, overlooking its industrial slums. High and Low tells the story of powerhouse shoe executive Kingo Gondo (Toshirô Mifune) battling the greedy board of directors to see what direction the company is going, as he resists their scheme to make a shoddy shoe to buildup profits. On the eve of pulling off the big coup of taking over the company-a proposition that throws him in hock down to his own furniture, he's hit by a huge ransom demand, with a twist -- the kidnapper mistakenly takes, not his own son, but his chauffeur's. Paying the ransom will ruin him financially; not paying it will ruin him as a human being. As Gondo struggles with his dilemma, the movie acquires an almost allegorical profundity, while Gondo is forced to decide between the life of an innocent and fealty to an abstract code. The second half of the film changes moods considerably, as it moves outdoors into the bustling and tawdry metropolitan area and becomes a police procedural film; it becomes nail-biting as it follows through on the money exchange and the manhunt for the kidnappers. As Gondo, Mifune sheds his samurai garb to play the modern-day millionaire in a suit and tie and conveys all the terrible rage of his ambition as well as the indestructible germ of compassion that lives inside him with remarkable effortlessness. But the real hero of the movie is Akira Kurosawa, who weaves together character study, social commentary and police procedure and combines what might have been a whole series of movies for another, lesser director. Nothing compares to the experience of watching a movie where every scene, every sequence, every shot are alive with confidence in the medium. Your complaints with Kurosawa (if any) would dissolve in the backwash of pure film pleasure High and Low offers, as you're introduced once again to the master.