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on October 15, 2003
And I thought Kurosawa was big on Samurai movies. This is a stunning cop thriller grounded in real-life Japan of the 60s.
Toshiro Mifune is an honest and hugely successful businessman who loves his job as a shoe factory exec and is in a battle for corporate control against a pack of hyenas. He has mortgaged and borrowed and scraped to raise the money for a surprise coup to takeover the firm. Until his son is kidnapped.
But then there is a major plot twist: it is not his own son who was taken but his son's friend, the chauffeur's kid, and the ransom demanded is atrocious. If he forks the dough, he stands to lose everything he has worked so hard for, but can he simply sacrifice the chauffeur's child because it is not his? From here on High and Low (perhaps better translated as Heaven and Hell) is a riveting "police procedural."
Watching Kurosawa's maestro camerawork is a rare, almost unique experience, he is a man in complete control of his visuals and his subject matter. The DVD is letterboxed and the print B&W. This not only lends beautifully to a cinematically compelling human drama, but it also draws you into the theme emotionally.
A superb film, captivating from start to finish. Highly recommended!
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on June 27, 2004
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
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on May 3, 2003
A wealthy shoe tycoon plans to take over the company, and things go wrong. Intrigued? neither.
I watched this movie expecting a mediocre showing from my favorite director, but what I got was a wonderfully done film with a lot to say.
Toshiro Mifune plays Kingo Gondo, a successful shoe tycoon with dated ideas. He believes that shoes are important because they support the entire weight of the body, while his partners just want to produce cheap stylish shoes that women will buy over and over. His partners want to vote him out of power, so Gondo comes up with a plan to buy enough of the company so he can sway the vote. Things go wrong when a man calls and says he has kiddnapped Gondo's son and he'll need to pay an amount of money, nearly equal to what he needs to keep himself in the company, he cooperates right away, but he finds out that the kiddnapper made a mistake and has kiddnapped his driver's son instead.
what follows is a interesting look into the process of catching a criminal and a study on the social structure of japan (one of Kurosawa's favorite subjects). What makes this movie stand out is the fact that it is not exagerated, the process of solving the crime seems long and drawn out, yet it still manages to hold your attention. Another interesting detail is the fact that Mifune owns a shoe company, in most kidnapping movies, the target is some rich AND famous person. Gondo, while rich, is certainly not famous, he is basically a glorified shoe salesmen, which makes the story that much more realistic.
Along with the kidnapping, the movie also focuses on the differences in classes. Gondo lives high on a lofty hill, while the kidnapper lives down with everybody else in the sweltering heat, hence the title high and low (or heaven and hell).
I'd recommend this movie to anyone who like crime dramas or japanese cinema.
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on June 15, 1999
Kurosawa's study of a crime is like nothing I've ever seen. It begins wrenchingly with the kidnap of a rich industrialist's child, but the kidnapper has snatched the wrong child and the industrialist must confront his own financial ruin to save his chauffeur's child. The movie shifts its focus in the second third of the movie to the detectives who try to catch the kidnapper. They are dogged, heroic, determined to catch the kidnapper. They succeed, and the last third of the movie shifts to the kidnapper who is portrayed with the greatest empathy so that the viewer is left wondering who after all is the villain (or is it all of us?). A movie that can be seen and re-seen without ever giving up all its meanings. Toshiro Mifune heads the superb cast. This movies has it all, deep compassion, enormous suspense, dramatic situations, wonderful characters. It was Kurosawa's interpretation of Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment."
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on November 2, 2012
Concerned with the fate of the company he spent his life helping to build, a wealthy industrialist decides to gamble it all and stage a daring takeover attempt. He puts his life savings on the line, but before he can close the risky deal, he gets a phone call from a kidnapper who claims that he’s kidnapped his young son. In a shocking turn of events, he discovers that his own son is safe and that the kidnapper has mistakenly abducted his loyal chauffer’s son. Will he do nothing and face an image destroying public outcry, or risk losing everything and pay the 30 million yen ransom the kidnapper is demanding for his driver’s young boy?

Jealousy, greed, hatred, self-sacrifice and love are just some of the themes explored in director Kurosawa’s cinematic masterpiece that is based on Ed McBain’s novel ‘King’s Ransom’. It’s stunningly filmed in B&W (with only one key scene utilizing color) and enveloped in a scarce but effective score. The film blends a first act that serves as a claustrophobic view of privileged life on the hill with a sweeping detective story that leads us deep into the very different world of the kidnapper. Kurosawa’s film examines the class structure of Japanese society, but the themes explored within are truly universal. The conflict that tears at the wealthy industrialist is played to perfection by the talented Toshiro Mifune.

High and Low offers both stunning video and audio quality. Although the picture quality isn’t perfect, it definitely must be said that the film has never looked better. As usual, Criterion also provides some nice extras, including: an audio commentary by Akira Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince, “Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create” documentary (38 min), a 1981 interview with actor Toshiro Mifune (31 min), a 2008 interview with actor Tsutomu Yamazaki (20 min), three theatrical trailers (8 min) and a beautiful 36-page illustrated booklet.

With great video & audio quality, a magnificent collection of extras and a cinematic tale of eternal struggle like no other, Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low comes highly recommended. It’s a gripping and powerful film that stays with you long after it fades to black.
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on July 21, 2003
"High and Low," Kurosawa's 1963 crime film begins in the peaceful mansion of Gondo (Mifune), who is involved in shoe production. Kurosawa immediately introduces this character to us, showing how he has a passion for his work, and how his work is part of his life. He will not let himself be bought out by the new generation of businessmen who are in it just to make money. Gondo makes it very clear that the shoes they are making are junk and are not delicately handled like they should be. Gondo is against these businessmen and refuses to work with them.
Gondo wants to break free and work on his own branch out of the shoe company. He reveals to his family and assistant, Kawanishi, that he is ready to do so with 30 million yen, money he has been saving up for years. Things change, however, when he receives a phone call that his son has been captured. Gondo will do whatever it takes to get his son back. However, he finds out that the kidnapper has taken the wrong child; the child is actually the son of a close friend who was with Gondo and his wife at the time. Gondo is now in a dilemma.
What follows is the police investigation as we meet the chief inspector (Nakadai, a Kurosawa regular) and the other investigators. Kurosawa makes this film a deep interesting character study right from the start, as we begin to understand the kind of person Gondo is. Gondo's dilemma is vividly shown and Mifune does a great job helping us understand his plight along with Kurosawa's great script.
The second half is mainly police investigation but is so fascinating and compellling in the style by which Kurosawa strucutres it. He uses flashbacks, wipe dissolves, lighting, closeups, and music all to his advantage. Kurosawa once again proves that he as great an artist as he is a storyteller, and maybe, the finest storyteller in film. The film's detailed locations are well balanced, from Gondo's peaceful and wealthy mansion perched up on a hill, to the hot and humid investigation room, to the streets of Tokyo, and to the crack houses in the urban slums. Kurosawa makes use of all the actors effectively, particularly Mifune and Nakadai. The film is a journey through crime, tension, reality, and Kurosawa leads us every step of the way to a powerful climax.
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on October 30, 2002
This amazing achievement of cinema simply takes hold of your sub-conscious and does not let go until the Japanese characters of "the end" fade onto screen. Even having read the premise and plot and character sketches of this movie had not prepared me for the film itself. Kurosawa is a genius, not because of his broad range of works and themes but, because of his masterful subtle control of elements within the single movie. The theme is none other than an obvious contrast (although the original Japanese translation of the title can be rendered "Heaven and Hell") and here we have a movie of conflicting opposites as existing only in a modern industrilize society. And the movie itself is broke into two contrasts: first, the money-comfort view of upper-class workaholic dedicated businessman Mufine in an expansive home overlooking the town, people, and indusrty below and, second, the view of a degenerate crimminal element weaving its way through a city of many sub-levels (similar to the effect made in the anime masterwork "Metropolis") where one level, working class, then police quarters, and finally dope alley lead us further into the enormous chasm of rich and poor, fortunate and unfortunate, high and low, heaven and hell. This multi-level construction gives the movie a complexity that only a few movies have even come close to touch. Be sure to watch for the countless composition shots in the first half of the film (almost no two are alike). In addition the contrasts and similes between characters themselves add to the plot giving us the effect much like the enormous city map blow-up down at police headquarters. Everything and everyone intersects at one point and the implications of this is much like watching lives unfold in a documentary that can be compared to some of the best moments in other theater and film (from "Death of a Salesman" to Hitchcock's "Rear Window"). Not that there are obvious similarities but, the mood and feel of certain great movies are universal.
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on August 23, 2002
Like many of Kurosawas classics this one revolves around a mans dilemna as to whether he should act for selfish reasons or rise above his selfish concerns and act for a higher good. The man in the dilemna is a wealthy shoe manufacturer who is on the verge of buying out the company he works for once and for all when his son is kidnapped. When he believes it to be his own son that was kidnapped there is no doubt in his mind that he must pay but when then learns that it was not his son but one of his sons friends that was taken by mistake he then begins a long deliberation with himself about whether he should pay the sum which would ruin him and save the child or not pay and realize his lifes ambition. That part of the movie is a solid drama but the most interestying aspect to my mind is how well Kurosawa shows all the details the police detectives use in solving the crime. The movie was based on an an Ed McBain novel and so the police detail is precise and is the real point of originality here. Each detective has a task and he takes he must perform and only when all the seperate elements of the police force work together can the crime be solved. So the selfless detectives are presented in contrast to the selfish and wealthy industrialist. Best secenes in the movie are when detectives trail their suspect through the seedy nightclubs. One particular nightclub scene for me steals the show. In that nightclub Kurosawa really captures the wild happenings that were the cultural moment of 1963. Cool jazz plays in this jam packed club which attracts a cultural mix indulging in their favorite night club activities. The excitement of this scene makes for a great few minutes of cinema and it is one of those moments that separate the great directors from the merely adequate. The lurid appeal of the seedy side of life was felt by another director as well, Orson Welles and his Touch of Evil is a film which comes to mind in certain scenes of decadent squalor. Immensely enjoyable in parts. Great and very likeable cast of detectives. The main storyline which traces the millionaires crisis of conscience is resolved in a most interesting ending when the millionaire(the high)confronts the low(the criminal). Film full of great detail and keen insight as always from Kurosawa. Great line spoken by one detective as he looks at the millionaries house on top of the hill. "I can understand the criminals perspective, its like that house is looking down on the rest of us."
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on June 5, 2002
Like most Americans, I am more familiar with Kurosawa's period films (Samurai flicks!) than with his modern dramas. "High and Low" was my first venture into this aspect of Kurosawa, and it is very rewarding indeed.
Toshiro Mifune's commanding presence dominates the first half of the film. He is every bit the in-control general, trying to find a strategy that allows him to keep family, fortune and face. His fortress has been breached by the enemy, and he must first defend then counter-attack. The enemy is invisible, hiding in an area of Japan that Mifune knows nothing about. The drama is tangible.
Most of Kurosawa's troupe is here, with familiar faces at every turn. Yoshio Tsuchiya (the gun-slinger from "Yojimbo") is one of the good guys this time as a police detective. Takashi Shimura (Kambei from "Seven Samurai") is the police director.
"High and Low" opened up whole new Kurosawa worlds for me. "The Bad Sleep Well," "Stray Dog," "Drunken Angel,"...I will never again limit myself to swords and top-nots. Great film!
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on March 20, 2002
It seems absurd at first that Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece *High and Low* is based on an Ed McBain potboiler. But it's actually typical of Kurosawa, who, perhaps believing that an Occidental-invented art-form like cinema probably benefits from Occidental-type stories, endlessly drew inspiration from popular, even shoddy American tales. His genius was to take our Westerns and detective novels and put them in a specifically Japanese milieu, while at the same time transforming them into universal works of art with his wisdom. All that being said, *High and Low* also happens to be an expertly constructed police procedural / suspense picture. Some of the best scenes in the movie are on the bullet-train with Toshiro Mifune throwing the ransom money out the window, as well as inside the cavernous police station with the masterfully choreographed revelations, one by one, of the details of the kidnapping case by the indefatigable cops. But what makes those scenes fly is the moral urgency behind them . . . something you almost never get from movies of this type. The pacing is brilliant: the aforementioned bullet-train scene breaks the mounting tension from the first hour, but Kurosawa immediately introduces us to the psychopathic kidnapper, setting up some more excruciating tension as the madman tries to lose the scent of the very clever cops on the case. The plot is devilishly complex: we no longer know what to expect when, early on, it's revealed that the kidnapper has taken the wrong child, the son of the industrialist's chauffeur instead of the actual son of the industrialist. We give up trying to figure things out and simply let the director give us the info on a need-to-know basis. The performances are all good: Toshiro Mifune gives a nuanced performance as the anguished shoe manufacturer on the verge of losing his humanity . . . but Tatsuya Nakadai (*Yojimbo* fans will recognize him as the pistol-wielding villain in that movie) as the top cop perhaps impresses more with his absolute refusal to showboat, even though he's given ample opportunity to do so. It's a thoroughly real portrayal. -- Some of my fellow American reviewers here have adopted a "tsk-tsk" stance with regards to the rampant capitalism presented in the movie. Phrases like "a fascinating study of post-War industrial Japan" are slightly redolent of patriarchal superiority, to my ears. Well, yes, the brutal obsession with making money in *High and Low* has a uniquely Japanese flavor, perhaps; but ask yourself this: Who provided the model? Has American capitalism ever been more "humane"? The scene in the Yokohama bar with its drunken, leering Americans (who were unwittingly filmed, btw) reveals Kurosawa's concerns about the capitalist mindset as whole, not just the Japanese version of it. As I said earlier, this director, like all the great ones, transcended his milieu. -- Basically, if someone had a gun to my head or whatever and said, "You can have only ONE Kurosawa in your collection," *High and Low* would probably be the one.
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