Mystery Suspense


Genre Index


High and Low, 1963. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai.

Synopsis: Toshiro Mifune plays an industrialist who, on the eve of a takeover bid for his company, has the son of his chauffer kidnapped--mistaken for his own son. He has the money on hand for the takeover and must divert it to ransom his employee's son, even though he will be ruined in the process. Tatsuya Nakadai plays the police inspector investigating the crime, and the second half of the movie is a gritty police procedural that follows his attempts to catch the kidnapper.

Akira Kurosawa transforms American crime writer Ed McBain's King's Ransom into a shattering film noir with deep moral conundrums. His control of his millieu is absolute: the first forty minutes or so are tightly framed in a board room and in the industrialist's apartment and plays out like a stage play. This is a set-up for one of the most startling shifts in tone in movies, as the film opens up into a gritty portrait of the streetlife of sixties era Japan. The contrast between the safe, hermetic world of the "high" and the desperate world of the "low" provides the film's theme. This is brought to a head at the end of the movie, as the industrialist confronts the kidnapper after he has been laid "low," so to speak. The industrialist, a moral man who does the right thing even though it destroys him, is bouncing back. The kidnapper simply snaps. Along the way, Kurosawa throws in an amazing number of telling details, from the child's drawing that identifies the kidnapper, to the auction slip on the clock as the police debrief the industrialist, to the drug den where the kidnapper "tests" his plan, to the various shots of Tokyo in gorgeous black and white widescreen. It is difficult to imagine that the gritty crime films that Hollywood put out during the seventies weren't influenced by this movie. One of the all time great crime films.