High and Low

High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963)

An executive of a shoe company becomes a victim of extortion when his chauffeur's son is kidnapped and held for ransom.

What characterizes the best a Kurosawa film is the strength of the feelings he exploits from his plots. In his most famous, Seven Samurai, it's not the crazy technical battles between the samurais and the villagers, it's everything that leads to them. Those feelings and depth are the proof of Kurosawa's understanding of humanity. The richness of Seven Samurai is the many subplots and themes it carries. This epic film showed how great Kurosawa is to the entire world.This was also one of the numerous collaborations between Kurosawa and his favorite lead player: Toshiro Mifune and a film in the genre the Emperor was most famous for; the sword play or here the Samurai flick.

High and Low made in 1963, is probably the best performance by Mifune. Set in contemporary Japan, a rich CEO of a shoe making company wants to buy the parts of his co-owners and lead the company his own way. But on the eve of the transaction, his son gets kidnapped and he is asked for a ransom. Gondo (Mifune) immediately accepts to pay the ransom but at the same time they discover that his son hasn't been kidnapped; it's the son his chauffeur that has been kidnapped instead. At this moment Gondo's attitude change drastically and he stubbornly refuses to pay the ransom. He only has one thing in mind; he still wants to buy the company. What's interesting here is Gondo's dilemma, he doesn't want to "kill" his chauffeur son but he doesn't want to loose the transaction because he risked big.

With a plot like that we need a capable director, I am sure High and Low influenced many thrillers of the 1970's. The rhythm is always right and the frames are sublime, Kurosawa is in great control and Mifune delivers like he never did. Gondo's interpret always tend to overact in a Japanese way but in High and Low he is more apart from the spotlight and on the second half of the film he is not in the center of the story. I don't know if High and Low has been the subject of an American remake, but one thing is sure its story would be a hit in the theaters. Another thing is sure; it would never been as good as Kurosawa's.

A masterpiece without a doubt.


  1. I absolutely love the final confrontation in this film. It's such a symbolic scene of Kurosawa's career. No big shoot out or fight. Just a brilliantly executed (lighting, angle, writing, the whole shebang) sequence looking at the real cost poverty plays on the mind of the impoverished.

    Great post!

  2. Thanks Uni! I know you're a great fan of Kurosawa's work too! I was very surprised with High and Low and it's one of Kurosawa's I enjoyed the most!


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