High and Low is the story of Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune), a executive who is making a power play to take over the company for which he works, National Shoes. He is trying to stop the company from shifting to low quality shoes which will cheat consumers and ruin the brand, and he has set up a secret leveraged buyout attempt to take control of the company. To achieve this, he has gambled everything he owns.
Only, it hasn’t. The kidnappers grabbed Shinichi, the son of Gondo’s chauffeur by mistake. Despite this mistake, the kidnappers still demand that Gondo pay the same ransom. What will he do? I’ll save that for you to discover.
Toward the end, by the way, this film becomes a fascinating police procedural which gives you some interesting insight into Japanese culture.
What A Great Film!
This is a fantastic film. And before I say anything else, let me toss out two words that say so very much: Toshiro Mifune. Mifune is, in my opinion, the greatest actor the world has ever produced. He is amazing. He is entirely believable in any role he plays. He has a stunningly noble screen presence, but boils over with emotion just beneath the surface. You feel everything his characters feel as if it were you. He is amazingly physically gifted and he can make complex athletic moves seem as simple as sitting down, yet he can also turn every day motions into intensely meaningful gestures. And he does all of this with a subtle approach that seems impossible.
Mifune plays the lead and watching him is truly a joy. He puts you in this film and makes you feel every single punch the script sends his way. He raises this film to a whole new level.
Apart from Mifune, this film has a strong script. For one thing, none of the film’s characters are the least bit cardboard. Each character has unique traits. Some are smart and competent. Some are incompetent or careless. Some are opportunists, some are devious, and some are helpless. Each character is given a unique motivation. Even the kidnapper’s motive is examined in depth. This makes this a very real world. Moreover, little in this film happens according to the normal order of events in films like this. It zigs at every opportunity. There is no deus ex machina, nor do characters do stupid things just to drive the plot either. It feels real at every turn.
When word of this leaks out, his supporters face the dilemma of whether or not to stick with a man who is likely to destroy his own plan and ruin their careers or do they turn to the other side? The police face a series of dilemmas as well about how to respond and how far to go to solve this crime without endangering the boy.
All of this makes this an amazing film experience, and I won’t ruin it for you by telling you any of the other twists and turns the film takes. This film is intense. It is thought-provoking. It is unpredictable. And driving this film is the amazing acting of Toshiro Mifune, the fantastic script, and the perfect camera work of Akira Kurosawa. I absolutely love this film.
Finally, as an aside, I find the pedigree of this film interesting. It is said to be based on the novel “King’s Ransom” (1959) by Ed McBain. However, it is very, very similar to the Glenn Ford/Donna Reed movie Ransom from 1956 (remade by Mel Gibson in 1996). I suspect that McBain may have copied the Glenn Ford movie and somehow this fact has fallen through the cracks. In any event, I recommend giving the Ford movie a peek after you see High and Low, as it too is excellent.