High and Low
(Review from A Tribute to Toshiro Mifune: 40 Films Starring Japan's Greatest Actor)
Director: Akira Kurosawa. Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima and Eijiro Hisaita, from the novel King's Ransom by Ed McBain. Photography: Asakazu Nakai and Takao Saito. Music: Masaru Sato. Co-stars: Kyoku Kagawa, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tatsuya Mihashi, Yutaka Sada, Tsutomu Yamazaki.
The son of a wealthy executive's chauffeur is kidnapped--by mistake, the executive's own son was the target--just as the executive has gathered all his resources for a bid to take over the company. The money is used instead to ransom the boy, under the careful supervision of the police. The hunt is then on for the kidnapper, a hospital intern and dope dealer who lives in the slums of Yokohama and has always gazed up with jealous rage at the executive's house high on a bluff overlooking the city. The first half of the film takes place almost entirely in "heaven," the executive's house on the hill. From there it descends into "hell" as the police track the culprit through the city, step by agonizing step.
With close-cropped hair and thin mustache, Mifune gives a taut, finely nuanced performance as the executive Gonda, a self-mad man sent from the threshold of success to the brink of destruction. Gondo has worked his way up in the shoe business with grit and pluck. When faced with his inescapable moral responsibility to ransom the little boy, who is not even his own son, he pulls out his old shoemaker's tools to rig the bag in which the ransom money will be stashed. Later, in white shirt and suit trousers, he dejectedly pushes a lawnmower around the luxurious garden that he is soon to lose along with his fortune.