High and Low (1963)

high and low

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pay ransom go bankrupt.

Kingo (Toshiro Mifune) is an executive of a shoe company who finds out that his chauffeur’s son has been kidnapped and comes under tremendous pressure to pay the ransom even it will make him bankrupt.

As with all of Akira Kurosawa’s films the production values are solid and the story is well paced. The very methodical police work and investigation is interesting and enlightening. It’s certainly nothing like today’s CSI shows, but well done for its period. The ending scene where Mifune faces the kidnapper leaves a strong and memorable impression.

However, on the negative side the set-up to the kidnapping happens too quickly without any type of buildup or tension. Almost the entire first hour takes place inside the living room of Kingo’s hilltop house and it would’ve helped to have some cutaways to other locales.  Mifune, who is billed as the star and gives a great performance disappears during the second hour only to finally reappear at the very end and I felt it would’ve been stronger had he been involved more in the investigation. Also, the revealing of the kidnapper is unexciting and a big letdown.  I had a hard time understanding why a guy who was so very crafty and sophisticated in every facet of his planning of the kidnapping would suddenly get so conveniently dumb and sloppy at the very end.

This is a decent Kurosawa entry, but in my opinion not one of his best. Yet it is still good enough to keep you captivated from beginning to end.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 1, 1963

Runtime: 2Hours 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Studio: The Toho Company

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)

5 responses to “High and Low (1963)

  1. What I love about this film is that, as far as I can remember, the wrong kid was kidnapped. It was supposed to be Kingo’s son, but the chauffeur’s kid was taken by mistake. And I believe that that’s why the kidnapper wasn’t brilliant with his plan all the way through.

    I own ever Criterion Collection released Kurosawa film, including HIGH AND LOW, and feel that now I must rewatch it. Thanks, Richard!

    • You make an excellent point Nir and thanks for your input. Somehow I still felt that the revelation of the kidnapper and the way he gets caught is anti-climactic. I was hoping for something more in the vein of the old ‘Columbo’ TV-show where the detective catches the otherwise shrewd bad guy in a very clever and unexpected way instead of having this smart, cool character get suddenly dumb and panic.

  2. See, here’s the thing: the criminal had already screwed up badly by kidnapping the wrong kid. So in the the eyes of the police and Kingo and Co., he’s automatically labeled as desperate (because of the kidnapping) and utterly amateurish because, well, he kidnapped the wrong kid. And because he’s labeled as desperate, which is a feature of realism, it makes sense that when his plan fails, he panics and makes even more mistakes that lead to his capture.

    Part of what I like about the film is the realism of the police procedural segments, during the second half of the films, and the conclusion that shows that the criminal really was a nobody. It’s kind of unique for a film to do that. And also how it got rid of Kingo throughout most of the second half of the film. Pretty taboo, if you ask me. :O)

    • You make some good points and seeing it from your perspective can make one appreciate the movie more. However, despite some mistakes the criminal also did some things in the plan that made one believe it was the work of a professional and not an amateur, which is why my expectations were higher for who the culprit might eventually be.

      I agree the invesitgation sequence is fascinating and my favorite part of the film.

  3. Yup.

    Kurosawa is, in my opinion, the greatest director of all time. HIGH AND LOW is a another good reason as to why I believe that. :O)

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