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HIGH AND LOW (Tengoku to jigoku) (director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; screenwriters: from the novel “King’s Ransom” by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter)/Eijirô Hisaita; cinematographers: Asakazu Nakai/Takao Saitô; editor: Akira Kurosawa; music: Masaru Satô; cast: Toshirô Mifune (Kingo Gondo), Yutaka Sada (Aoki, the chauffeur), Tatsuya Nakadai (Chief Detective Tokura), Kenjiro Ishiyama (Chief Detective ‘Bos’n’ Taguchi), Tsutomu Yamazaki (Ginjirô Takeuchi, medical intern), Kyôko Kagawa (Reiko Gondo, wife), Tatsuya Mihashi (Kawanishi, Gondo’s assistant), Isao Kimura (Detective Arai), Toshio Egi (Jun Gondo), Masahiko Shimazu (Shinichi Aoki); Runtime: 143; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ryuzo Kikushima/Tomoyuki Tanaka; The Criterion Collection; 1963-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“As the title suggests this is a film about the haves and the have-nots, or the high and the low.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Akira Kurosawa’ suspense/morality play yarn is adapted from “King’s Ransom” one of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels (locales are transferred from New York City to Yokohama). It tells of nouveau riche shoe executive Kingo Gondo (Toshirô Mifune), of National Shoes, battling the greedy board of directors to see what direction the company is going, as he resists their scheme to make a shoddy shoe to buildup profits. On the eve of pulling off the big coup of taking over the company by mortgaging everything he has in a hostile stock takeover and thereby ousting his enemies, he receives a call that his son Jun was kidnapped and was being held for a 30 million yen ransom. It turns out the kidnappers mistakenly took Shinichi, the only son of Aoki (Yutaka Sada) the widower chauffeur for Gondo.

The opening action is entirely set in Gondo’s claustrophobic luxurious house, high up in the hill above the city, overlooking its industrial slums. Gondo has to deal with his nervous wife (Kyoko Kagawa), his anxious assistant Kawanishi, the fawning chauffeur and the two supercharged cops Chief Detective Tokura (Tatsuya Nakadai) and Detective Taguchi (Kenjiro Ishiyama), and after wrestling with his soul decides to pay even though it means the business deal won’t go down and he will be ruined financially.

The second half of the film changes moods considerably, as it moves outdoors into the bustling and tawdry metropolitan area and becomes a police procedure film; it becomes nail-biting as it follows through on the money exchange and the manhunt for the kidnappers.

It’s overlong, far too obvious in preaching its liberal conscience message and hits us over the head too hard by continually pointing out how capitalism can be so cruel to the masses, but it did hold my attention and drew fascinating parallels to Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment. As the title suggests this is a film about the haves and the have-nots, or the high and the low. Wealth is held out as source of salvation or loss of soul, and it’s made clear through the confrontation between the successful executive and the envious medical student kidnapper that it’s not necessarily a bad thing if used wisely and obtained by rightful means.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”