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Film / High and Low (1963)

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Tengoku to Jigoku (English Title: High and Lownote ) is 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.

Do not confuse with the High&Low franchise by EXILE TRIBE, also Japanese made.


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.
  • Big Fancy House: Gondo's large modern house with the amazing view at the top of the hill ("High") overlooking the city ("Low"). The first half is set entirely within that house.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Gondo's youth as a cobbler's apprentice comes in handy when the police need to hide some capsules in the briefcases that burn with bright pink smoke or let out a horrible smell if they get wet.
  • 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 and he's stated as being obsessed with making army boots.
  • Cowboys and Indians: Jun and Shinichi play "Sheriff and Outlaw", then switch roles and outfits; this leads to the wrong boy being kidnapped.
  • Dramatic Irony: The kidnapper believes that he's striking a deserved blow against an uppity, privileged rich man who has always looked down (literally even) on the poor of the slum district below. Except that Gondo himself came up from those same slums.
  • 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.
  • Evil Counterpart: The kidnapper to Gondo, as both have backgrounds from the urban slums, and from which Gondo worked his way up from the bottom to reach the professional class, while the kidnapper might have had a chance to potentially work to becoming a medical professional, but threw away his life committing the crimes.
  • 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: Based on the novel King's Ransom by Ed McBain (pen name of Evan Hunter).
  • Freudian Excuse: 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, apparently because he doesn't want to be pitied, which of course begs the question as to why he's even telling Gondo about it.
  • Grass Is Greener: Why the kidnapper did what he did. He was a poor medical student who lived in a hovel gazing up at Gondo's fancy house at the top of the hill and directed all his rage towards him, seeing him as a symbol and representative of the class structure.
  • 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. His own employees note that while Gondo might be stern and even a stickler, he was always fair and respectful and never asked them to do stuff he wouldn't do. The dilemma for Gondo in the first half, when the kidnapper took the wrong kid Shinichi, is whether he is willing to sacrifice his life savings and fortune for someone who is not his own child, and indeed the son of one of his servant's. Gondo ultimately does do the moral thing but he hesitated for a long time because he really did have a lot at stake and the police are moved by his moral gesture, with one cop noting that it's almost enough to change his opinion about businessmen, at least until Gondo's bosses prove how exceptional and rare a thing this is.
  • Hyperlink Story: The second half of the film is a drama without main characters largely following the cops as they investigate the kidnapper, it also switches by following the kidnapper, a brief episode where Shinichi's father tries to act like a hero and investigate on his own, and showing the fallout of the media publicity of Gondo's actions. The height of this is when the cops in the middle of their investigation see Gondo, who's been absent from the action for sometime, just run into the man who he doesn't know is the kidnappers. The cops can't believe the bizarre incident and unknown connection they are seeing.
  • 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: he specifically states that the briefcases can't be any wider than 2.5 inches or otherwise they wouldn't fit through the gap in the window of the train's toilet, which are the only windows in the train that open to any degree.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: The kidnapper's sunglasses always manage to have bright light reflecting in them.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Kurosawa emphasizes this by the fact that the first act is entirely set inside the confines of the house, while the second half is set across the city's lower-depths, with the scene where Gondo makes the drop in the train the bridge of the story. The film is divided between "high" and "low".
  • 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

Alternative Title(s): High And Low


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