High and Low (1963)

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So, you know how you feel when a friend gets sick and misses a few days from work, and you start wishing you could get sick and have to stay home? And then, you do get sick, and you have to stay home? But there’s a problem: You’re sick! And if you’re too sick to do what you normally do, then staying home sick is not fun.

Recently, that was me. In between catching up on some reading, and sleeping, I had enough energy to watch a movie on Turner Classic Movies, High and Low. Normally, this wouldn’t be my first choice. Not because it’s old, or in black and white, or because it’s a foreign film, but because it’s spoken in Japanese, and therefore has to watched with subtitles. When I feel like reading, I read, and when I feel like watching a movie, I don’t like for my eyes to divide their time between the bottom of the screen, and the rest of it.

High and Low tells the story of an executive, Kingo Gondo (That’s the character’s name, really. How could I make that up?). His child gets kidnapped. At the end of his first phone call with the kidnapper, as he begins plans to gather the ransom money for his child . . . his child walks into the house from playing outside. At first he thinks this was some kind of sick joke, until the terrible truth becomes clear: the kidnapper has mistakenly taken his chauffeur’s child. At first Gondo thinks the crisis is over. When the kidnapper realizes his mistake, he’ll realize the chauffeur doesn’t have that kind of money and will release the child.HiLow6

The kidnapper does realize his mistake, but still expects Gondo to pay the ransom, or his employee’s child will die.

Hence a unique moral dilemma: is the employer morally and financially obligated to save the child’s life? Adding to this problem is that Gondo has taken out a loan using everything he owns as collateral. His plan is to use the money to buy stock in his company to take control of it, and save it from investors who want to want to start making inferior products that would net more money for the company, and hence, themselves. Paying the ransom will ruin Gondo financially and also ruin the company.

Toshirô Mifune does an amazing job of playing an honorable man faced with two choices: ruin himself financially or morally. 

The first hour takes place on one set: Gondo’s home. You feel like you’re in the room, a visitor watching these enthralling events unfold before your eyes. The second part of the movie starts when the police are called in. Here the tension really ratchets up. The police are presented as true professionals. Every detail of their investigation is laid out for us to see, and it’s totally engrossing.


The director, Akira Kurosawa, never loses control of his story, and he keeps it moving. Everything on the screen keeps the story going forward, no fluff or gratuitous scenes as filler. Scenes vary from heartbreaking (the phone calls with the kidnapper), to harrowing (a trip into an alley filled with drug addicts), to suspenseful (a race against time on a speeding train). Once it’s done, you can’t believe almost two and a half hours have gone by.

The best American filmmaker comparison would be Alfred Hitchcock. If Hitchcock’s movies had more depth, they would look like High and Low.

You’re not likely to catch this movie again on TMC, and I doubt it’s streaming on Netflix. So you’re going to have to break down and spend $3.99 on Amazon. But at 183 minutes, it works out to only three cents a minute. Or more appropriately, 433 yen!

So pull out the wallet, put on the reading glasses, and watch High and Low. It’ll be the best movie you’ve ever read. 


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