Opening Statement

I’d rather be told the cruel truth than be fed gentle lies.

 

Review

Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is about to make the biggest deal of his life. Not happy with the plans of the company he works for, he mortgaged everything he has in order to attempt a buyout that will put him in the CEOs chair.

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Just before his plan is about to go into effect, he receives a call telling him his son has been kidnapped and demanding a major ransom. He soon realizes that the kidnappers have made a mistake when his son walks into the house. The kidnapped boy is in fact his son’s friend. The son of Kingo’s Chauffeur. The kidnapper calls again, still demanding the money.

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What will Kingo Gondo do? Give in to the kidnapper, or pay the ransom?

 

High and Low is a top notch police procedural from a director not necessarily known for movies of that type.

 

Akira Kurosawa is a legend in film circles, the director of Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Rashomon and The Hidden Fortress. Films that influenced Hollywood productions such as John Sturges’ Magnifiecent Seven and George Lucas’ Star Wars. All of these films are based in either Japan’s rich history or folk stories.

 

High and Low shatters a lot of expectations some may have of what they are going to see. This film, like a previous Kurosawa film, Stray Dog, are set in a 20th century Japan and the storyline follows dedicated police officers instead of Samurai.

 

The Japan of High and Low is humming with energy and rebuilding from a catastrophic defeat in world war 2 into an industrial powerhouse. The look and feel of the film would not be out of place in the United States of the same era. The tall buildings, tough gangsters, police forensics and office backdrops all have the look that would fit a film noir film from Hollywood. But Kurosawa gives them a personality that’s modern but still retains a cultural distinctiveness.

 

The struggles of Kingo feel realistic, he wants to do the right thing but he isn’t sure what that is. If he pays the ransom, he destroys his family’s livelihood and his chances at his company. But if he doesn’t pay, he risks the life of his son’s friend and the trust of the people who work for him. No matter what he does, there is a terrible risk. It’s not an easy decision and it’s refreshing to see a film character wrestle with a genuine problem like this instead of magically finding the “perfect” solution. Indeed, the rest of the film shows him dealing with the consequences of that decision.

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The film also does a good job of showing the urgency of a police department dealing with a kidnapping. The way they capture the villain at the end was very creative and seemed like something a police department would actually try. Another great performance is by Tatsuya Nakadai, playing the Chief Detective investigating the case. Mifune and Nakadai were sometimes cast against each other in films (Yojimbo, Sanjuro) and it’s nice to see them on the same side for a change.

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The edition I viewed is from Criterion Collection and is a beautiful print. So many great films are let down by subpar DVD releases, it’s nice to see how much of a difference a good restoration and/or a quality transfer can make.

 

Verdict 4 Gavels out of 5

Outstanding crime drama from a director more known for his samurai epics. Accurate police procedure and strong performances make this one a classic for foreign film fans, crime movie buffs and Kurosawa fans alike.

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