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If you like rough and gruff cop movies with a moral center you’ll like this one.
The indisputable Japanese master director Akira Kurosawa (Ran, Rashomon, Seven Samurai) brings us another tightly wound story with ethical implications. You really end up thinking what would you have done if you were this or that character in “High and Low.”
Gondo (brought to life with a bombastic machismo by Toshiro Mifune) is the go-getter and supremely self-confident CEO of a women’s shoe company. True to his character, he refuses to kowtow to a new cohort of directors who just want to produce cheaper shoes for the masses, regardless of the quality.
Yet this is the subterfuge and has nothing to do with the guts of this crime story.
FIRST CONFLICT: Gondo insists on high-quality shoes even if it means higher prices. The other senior officials of the National Shoe corporation throw down the gauntlet: it’s going to be either them — or Gondo. There’s no room for both.
Gondo can beat back this attack on his life’s work by buying back enough shares to give him an upper hand in the control of the company.
PLOT POINT 1: Just as he is about to borrow the money needed to buy back the extra shares, his son is kidnapped by a ransom artist. (Or is he?)
Gondo is devastated because the only way he can save his son’s life is to ruin his life-time work since paying the ransom would be the end of his attempt to buy more shares.
But here is the twist: the kid who is kidnapped is not actually his own but that of his driver whose son was mistaken for Gondo’s.
Oops… Now what? Is Gondo off the hook? Is he going to refuse to pay because the life in question belongs to his driver’s son rather than his own? As an old-school honorable gentleman, would he be able to live with himself if he refuses to save the son of an employee?
Yet, if he pays the ransom he’ll surely be bankrupt, with no hope of regaining control of the company. In worldly terms, he’d be ruined.
So… Gondo does what his character would dictate and he agrees to pay the ransom.
Then comes a long and rather tedious (and outdated) section on the ’60s Japanese technology of tracking criminals. It’s of historic interest and nothing more.
The film concludes on an upbeat note, with the kidnapper caught and justice served.
However, the last face-off scene between Gondo and the kidnapper just before he is executed is a disappointing and unnecessary piece of “on the nose” exposition after two-hours of high-energy sleuthing and ethical soul wrangling.
But overall “High and Low” is a watchable crime movie with a lot of chain-smoking men making all the decisions in an obviously patriarchal Japan of the ’60s. Unless you are a feminist, you might enjoy this film with great B&W cinematography.
write by John Davis