Toshiro Mifune stars as a wealthy industrialist whose family becomes the target of a ruthless kidnapper in Akira Kurosawa's exemplary film noir. Based on Ed McBain's detective novel King's Ransom, High and Low is both a ri... more »veting thriller and a brilliant commentary on contemporary Japanese society. Criterion is proud to present High and Low in a luminous new Tohoscope transfer with new electronic subtitles.« less
Michael K. Beusch | San Mateo, California United States | 03/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Very rarely does a film improve upon the book on which it is based. It takes a visual master, working with an excellent screenwriter, to convey as much detail about a story as an author. However, Akira Kurosawa's High and Low manages to do it. The source novel, Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novel King's Ransom is a well written thriller that, nonetheless, doesn't really stay with the reader afterwards. Kurosawa, however, better known for his samurai epics, took McBain's story and gave it a depth never realized in the book. The famed director stays faithful to the novel, but fleshes out a simple detective story into a drama that makes social commentary as well as entertains.
McBain's Douglas King never really earns the reader's sympathy -- even though we can understand his motives. Toshiro Mifune's Kingo Gondo, in contrast, becomes a three-dimensional sympathetic character. Both men have their entire financial well-being at stake in the form of a hostile takeover bid for control of a shoe company. Both men, at first, behave selfishly, refusing to pay the ransom even though they are risking their chauffeur's son's life. However, McBain's Douglas King never shows the humanity that Mifune's Gondo does. Kurosawa adds a scene, not in the book, where Gondo pays the ransom and saves the kidnapped child. Even though his business deal is now dead and he is broke, he still reacts with relief and joy when the kidnappers return the chauffeur's son. It's an emotional payoff that McBain's book is sorely lacking and helps to flesh out the character.
Gondo is also a more sympathetic character partially due to the fact that his actions are at least partially dictated by Japan's rigid caste system. Japanese society is broken up into social strata whereby the rich and powerful expect the lower classes to know their place. This division of influence, unlike in the United States, is generally accepted, even by those on the lower end of the scale. This isn't just the way Mifune's Gondo thinks -- EVERYONE thinks that way in Japan. However, Kurosawa, while he understands the mindset of Japanese society, is also critical of it. Kurosawa shows that when Gondo pays the ransom and saves the boy, even at the cost of his financial well-being, the Japanese people, as a whole, hail Gondo as a hero. Our sympathies are clearly supposed to be with the chauffeur and his son, even though it goes against every principle of the Japanese caste system. This commentary gives High and Low a depth that McBain's novel lacked.
In the novel, McBain hedges his bets morally. One of the kidnappers is a vile hardened criminal. However, the other two kidnappers, a husband and wife, are more sympathetic, particularly the wife who doesn't know about the plan until it is already in effect. In the end, the kidnappers get away and the chauffeur's son, Bobby, refuses to aid police in their capture. In addition, the police are seen as somewhat disjointed with some detectives with personalities and egos that irritate other policemen.
Kurosawa, in contrast, concentrates on one central kidnapper, a vile person who exploits drug addicts to do his dirty work and then kills them when he gets what he wants. McBain's subplot about the husband and wife is distracting, even though his kidnappers, with their self-doubt and streaks of conscience, seem to be a more balanced and realistic portrayal. In addition, the police are seen as a cohesive unit who forgo ego in order to catch the kidnapper. However, this is more a reflection of Japanese society, with its emphasis on team effort rather than individual glory, than a pie-in-the-sky idealized vision of the police. McBain's portrayal of the police is probably close to what an American police squad is like. Still, Kurosawa's vision is more satisfying. The police pursue the criminal and bring him to justice. Ironically, the resolution of the film, made in Japan, is probably much more satisfying to Americans than the resolution of the book, written by an American.
King's Ransom has an interesting plot. But author Ed McBain has only provided a good skeleton of a story. Akira Kurosawa, in contrast, has taken the exciting, but conventional story and turned it into a memorable cinematic masterpiece."
This Is An Extraordinarily Good Film
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 06/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Watched this a few days ago for about the fifth time and have been thinking about it ever since. I think it probably is my favorite Kurosawa film.Toshiro Mifune plays a top executive in a shoe company who is secretly planning to take over the company. He wants to keep making quality shoes and gradually expand the market. The other executives want to make cheaper shoes and take advantage of the company's reputation. Mifune has raised every yen he can, including using his house, for the buyout, but his son is kidnapped. For the ransome he'll need all the money he's raised. He's prepared to do this for the sake of his son.Then he finds out that the kidnappers made a mistake. They kidnapped his driver's son, who is the same age as his own. What a terrible moral dilemma. Would you or I give up every dime we had to save a neighbor's or an employee's son? Mifune does, and this act has a great effect on the police and the public.The first half of the movie takes place in his house on a hill while all this unfolds. The second half is the chase to find the boy before he's killed and to capture the kidnapper. We move from the intensity of the dilemma unfolding in Mifune's home to the gritty business of the search which takes us into some of the lowest parts of the Japanese underworld.Mifune is powerful in the role of the father, at first torn by the decision he has to make, then commited to finding his driver's son. Tatsuya Nakadai plays the detective, handsome, smooth, professional, and ultimately deeply touched by Mifune's integrity. Years later Nakadai played the leads in Kurosawa's Kagemusha and Ran. And it was good to see Mifune out of samurai costume.High and Low is the work of a master. The DVD has the quality and extras one has come to expect from Criterion"
wdanthemanw | Geneva, Switzerland | 04/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"HIGH as Toshiro - Kingo Kondo - Mifune's house which lies on a hill, admired by the whole city. HIGH as Kingo's wealthiness that allows him to buy nearly 50 % of the shares of the society he's working for. HIGH as the moral integrity of this man who appears as a gentle capitalist never forgetting that money must be earned in a proper honest way. LOW as the condition of Kondo's servant whose only son has been kidnapped. LOW as the morals of Kondo's partners who are the true villains of the movie, LOW as the expectations of the drug addicts of Dope Alley who seem have been forgotten by the prosperous 1963 Japan. At least, LOW as Takeuchi's chances to escape a police humiliated by the machiavelic plot he has imagined. Adapted from one of Ed McBain " 87th Precinct " novels, Akira Kurosawa's HIGH AND LOW is a masterpiece. The first half of the movie takes place in the living room of Kingo Gondo. Kurosawa gives here an unforgettable lesson of cinema helped by a great actor - Toshiro Mifune - who is going to pass through the whole variety of feelings, from Happiness to Despair, in a 36 hours period. The second half of HIGH AND LOW depicts the police investigations in order to discover the kidnappers. Another scene worthy to stay in the annals of Movie History is the expressionist description - by night - of the hot streets of the city. A cinematographical enchantment. No bonus features with this Criterion release except for a booklet. Superb sound and images as usual. A DVD zone your library."
Humanity and compassion triumphs-for the life of one boy
Daniel J. Hamlow | Narita, Japan | 02/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Based on King's Ransom by Ed McBain, High And Low (original title Heaven And Hell) tells the story of Gondo (Toshiro Mifune), head of National Shoes' factory production, who believes in producing quality shoes that are expensive but durable. He is ready to take a controlling interest in his company to prevent from being kicked out of the company when he receives a phone call saying his son has been kidnapped and to fork over 30 million yen. His son Jun, fortunately, returns from playing outside with Shinichi, the chauffeur's son, who is now nowhere to be seen. That changes nothing, as the kidnapper still demands the ransom.He calls the police, who come in discretely in one of the cleverest methods I've ever seen. Led by Inspector Tokura and aided by Taguchi, a burly bald man known as the Bo'sun, they prove to be ideal policemen, dedicated, rational, and clever.Gondo adamantly refuses. He has mortgaged everything, including the luxurious house on the hill he and his family live to get the shares. Paying the ransom will put them all out on the street. The police are accomodating, saying that it's important to rescue the child, but not by sacrificing Gondo. However, Gondo's right-hand man Kawanishi has sold him out, informing his colleagues of his plans. Gondo's dreams have been destroyed, so he agrees to pay the ransom.The drama can be divided into three parts. First, the kidnapping, Gondo's refusal then agreeing to pay, and the police coming over to advise him. The second part has Shinichi being released and goes into high-level detective drama mode as the police use evidence, deductive reasoning, and clues that will help them catch the kidnapper, and three, the trap the police set out for the killer. It's part two that's the best. The Japanese police's teamwork, skills in chasing down and analyzing clues, and the cooperation shown by the public, denotes that the Japanese police are truly dedicated servants of the people, compared to the American police (q.v. Rodney King, Malice Green, Amadou Diallou). The police in this movie are likable and honorable. And when each development or clue is found, the excitement ratchets up a notch.Water is twice a symbol in this movie. Gondo is taking a shower, the water running full blast after Kawanishi has betrayed him. After this scene, he calls the bank to get the money per the kidnapper's demands. Also, once he tosses the money again per the kidnapper's demands, he washes his face in a sink. It's a cleansing; the first scene denotes his washing away the cold businessman for someone with humanity. Indeed, when Shinichi is released, he rushes towards him as if he were his own son. This was first touched on when his wife Reiko berates his worsening attitude. "Success isn't worth losing your humanity" and she is right. Gondo is thus reborn as someone with compassion, humility, and a soul, while being his own man as opposed to being a cog in the corporate wheel. His sacrifice makes him a hero to the Japanese public. And the scene where he refuses his post back at National Shoes after the media backlash at the company for firing him, elicits a secret smile from the Bo'sun, who usually wastes on love on the rich, but ends up admiring Gondo.Gondo also represents the ideal of quality goods Japan has become famous for. In the opening, he is dead set against the cheap quality of shoes his colleagues propose making. He says in response to his colleagues that shoes must wear out and are accessories just like hats and handbags that "hats are decoration. Shoes carry all your body weight." He advocates making shoes that are durable yet stylish, expensive but profitable in the long run. It's the Japanese business ideal versus America's disposable merchandise attitude. Thus Kurosawa also advocates quality in material things as well as quality of the soul.High And Low is proof enough of Kurosawa's ability to film gendai-geki (or contemporary drama) as opposed to jidai-geki (stories that take place in the feudal, samurai era in the warring pre-Tokugawa period.) Some will argue that it's nothing compared to The Seven Samurai or Throne Of Blood, but for its values of compassion, humanity, dedication, and ideal quality in spiritual and material things."
Daniel J. Hamlow | 12/14/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of Kurosawa's best movies with another fantastic performance from Toshiro Mifune. The movie is divided into 2 parts (the kidnapping and the search for the kidnapper) separated by a thrilling sequence on a Bullet train that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The Japanese title should be more accurately translated as "Heaven and Hell" which becomes clear once you've seen the movie.In response to the reviewer who said the disc would not play on his player, I contacted Criterion and found out there are 2 pressings of the disc available. According to them, "You can distinguish the original pressing from the second pressing by looking at the back of the package. The second pressing is Region 1 encoded and CSS and Macrovision encrypted. The original pressing does not have either feature.". Last January I tried 2 copies of the original pressing and neither would play in my Panasonic A110 player. I just bought a copy of the second pressing from Amazon and it plays fine! Now I can watch this masterpiece as much as I want in the comfort of my own home!"