Film / High and Low

A 1963 film directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai, based on King's Ransom, an 87th Precinct novel by Ed McBain.

Kingo Gondo (Mifune) is a wealthy executive (the factory manager) for National Shoes. He's caught in a power struggle between a trio of directors who want to wrest control from the company's president, and the autocratic president himself. Behind the scenes, he's arranged a leveraged buyout that will give him control of the company so that he can run it his way. Just as he's committed himself to this course of action, mortgaging everything he has, Gondo is informed that his child Jun has been kidnapped, and the kidnapper demands a ludicrously high ransom.

Gondo is prepared to pay even if it ruins him, but then learns that his son is safe. Instead, the kidnapper has accidentally taken Shinichi, the son of Gondo's chauffeur. Gondo must now struggle with the moral dilemma of either bankrupting himself for another man's child...or letting the child die at the hands of the kidnapper.

While Gondo suffers from this dilemma, and the results of his decision, the police, led by Chief Detective Tokura (Nakadai) attempt to match wits with the kidnapper and bring him to justice.

This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Kidnapping: The kidnapper gets confused and winds up taking the chauffeur's son instead of Gondo's.
  • Adult Fear: Your child being kidnapped? Check. Financial ruin? Double check.
  • Big Bad: Ginjiro Takeuchi, the mastermind of Shinichi's kidnapping.
  • The Big Board: The cops in Yokohama have a large map of the city that they use in an effort to puzzle out where the kidnapper called from.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Gondo's youth as a cobbler's apprentice comes in handy when the police need to hide something in briefcases.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The three directors want to take over National Shoes so that they can make gaudy but shoddy products at a high profit, assuming their customers will be easily fooled by advertising. The "Old Man", who is never seen, does not appear to be corrupt, but is autocratic and behind the times.
  • Cowboys and Indians: Jun and Shinichi play "Sheriff and Outlaw", then switch roles and outfits; this leads to the wrong boy being kidnapped.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Gondo's plan to take over National Shoes fails, and he loses all his possessions when his creditors call in his loan. But he gets the cash back when the kidnapper is finally caught, and he gets a chance to start over again with a smaller but better shoe company.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Gondo's secretary Kawanishi defects to the side of the directors; he tries to disguise this as a Heel–Face Turn, but Gondo easily sees through it.
  • Film of the Book / Foreign Remake: Based on the novel King's Ransom by Ed McBain (pen name of Evan Hunter).
  • Freudian Excuse / Noodle Incident: It's hinted that the kidnapper's life has been hellish, including whatever gave him that nasty scar. But he decides not to tell Gondo about it, because he doesn't want to be pitied.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: Gondo, while engaging in some sneaky dealings, wants to produce good quality and stylish shoes at a reasonable price as this will produce more profits in the long run.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The kidnapper uses as his partners in crime two heroin junkies. He then murders them with heroin overdoses by deliberately giving them 95% pure heroin.
  • Morality Chain: Gondo's wife Reiko, at first, and later his son Jun.
  • Phone-Trace Race: Police trying to trace the phone calls.
  • Police Procedural: Particularly in the second part of the film.
  • Ransom Drop: From a train per the kidnapper's meticulous instructions.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: The kidnapper's sunglasses always manage to have bright light reflecting in them.
  • Shoddy Knockoff Product: At the beginning of the movie, Gondo is being pressured into making crappier, cheaper and absolutely flimsy shoes at the National Shoe to drive up profits. He doesn't warm up to the idea at all.
  • Self-Made Man: Gondo worked his way up from cobbler's apprentice to the position he now occupies, though his marriage to Reiko did give him much more wealth to work with. (And note that this kind of upward social mobility would have been extremely rare in Japan at the time, making Gondo's moral dilemma even more harrowing.) The fact that he was a leather worker implies that he was not simply poor, but a Burakumin, making his success even more extraordinary.
  • Splash of Color: A plume of pink smoke when the kidnapper disposes of evidence appears in color.
  • True Craftsman: Gondo cares about making quality shoes, and takes offense when more ethically challenged executives at National Shoes suggest making a deliberately shoddy product.
  • Two-Act Structure: The first half of the film involves the kidnapping and Ransom Drop, which is complicated by Gondo's planned takeover of National Shoes and his reluctance to expose himself to complete financial ruin. The second half of the movie largely leaves Gondo behind and follows the meticulous police investigation that eventually tracks down the kidnapper.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The kidnapper breaks down sobbing and tries to swallow a heroin overdose when he is finally caught. And his brave front when he faces Gendo winds up dissolving into hysterical screaming.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Reiko