An elder ronin samurai arrives at a feudal lord's home and requests an honorable place to commit suicide. But when the ronin inquires about a younger samurai who arrived before him things take an unexpected turn.
An executive mortgages all he owns to stage a coup and gain control of the National Shoe Company, with the intent of keeping the company out of the hands of incompetent and greedy executives. He needs the same money, though, to pay the ransom that will possibly save a child's life. His resolution of that dilemma -- the certain loss of the company vs. the probable loss of the child -- makes for one distinct drama, and an ensuing elaborate police procedure makes for a second. Written by
Based on the novel "King's Ransom" by Ed McBain (pen name of Evan Hunter), part of McBain's "87th Precinct" series. See more »
When the police is reviewing the footage from the train (where the kidnappers retrieve the briefcase), the camera rotates 180 degrees backwards and, despite it having been recorded from the cabin, the view is never blocked. See more »
"High and Low" is one of those deceptive detective-thrillers that sneak in under your radar and grab you from behind with their storytelling magic. It's proof positive of Kurosawa's mastery of film and all its imagery.
The story was adapted from an Ed McBain "87th Precinct" novel, "King's Ransom", and is really very simple. A successful businessman (Mr. Gondo) in the middle of a major deal is told his son has been kidnapped. All concerns about money fly out the window...until Gondo learns it was actually his chauffeur's son who was taken by mistake. Doesn't matter; the kidnapper still wants him to pay the ransom, even though it will bankrupt him. Will Gondo destroy his standing in the business world to save the life of a child that is not even his? Or will he just leave it to the police and fate to determine whether the child lives or dies? This makes up the first half of the film.
The second half deals with the search for the kidnapper and his accomplices, and it does not shy away from showing how dull and grueling good police work is. Step by step, the cops narrow their field of suspects and build their evidence to link their prey to murder as well as the kidnapping, meaning he would face execution. This makes up the second half of the film.
It helps to know that in the original story, the businessman refuses to pay the ransom but does help the police track down the kidnappers. It also helps to understand that in Japan, working your way up from making shoes and satchels by hand to being in a position where you could wind up owning the company is a HUGE accomplishment in a caste driven society. It means he is due additional respect, and this is what Gondo faces losing if he pays the ransom, which is far more important than the fact that he will be driven into bankruptcy.
From the first scene through an amazingly exciting section on a bullet train to the ending moments between Gondo and the kidnapper, Kurosawa shows exactly why he is a master of cinema. To take what is basically an episode of "Law and Order" and make it into a meditation on the meaning of life and evil is not something just any film school twit could do.
To me, the best moment on a human level comes when Gondo descends the stairs the morning after the kidnapping to explain to the police why he cannot pay the ransom for a child not even his. You can see the man realizing he is allowing himself go to hell in order to protect his family and station in life, and Toshiro Mifune underplays it beautifully...and Kurosawa lets it just simply happen. Wonderful.
THIS is the movie Mel Gibson's "Ransom" wishes it had been. something real and human and meaningful instead of merely kick-ass.
Ten out of ten stars.
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