High and Low (1963)

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“One of the best detective thrillers ever filmed”

A.O. Scott, New York Times

Rather surprisingly, the origin of Kurosawa’s contemporary drama of crime and punishment is a book, King’s Ransom, by American writer Ed McBain. Toshiro Mifune stars as Gondo, a wealthy businessman who lives in a fine house on top of a hill overlooking the city. He’s about to swing a deal that will make him very rich when he receives a message to say that his small son has been kidnapped – and an unrealistically high ransom is being demanded for his safe return. But the boy is safe: it was Gondo’s chauffeur’s son who was kidnapped by mistake. So the question is: Is the son of a chauffeur worth the same as the son of a businessman?

Using the Scope ratio with his usual brilliance, Kurosawa divides the film into two distinct parts, parts that are aptly described by the film’s title. The first half of the film unfolds inside the house on the hill, as Gondo agonises over what to do. The second takes place down in the city where people like the kidnapper live in abject poverty – the film is sometimes known in English as Heaven and Hell. Like Hitchcock, Kurosawa isn’t interested in making a whodunit or a mystery: for him the question is Why?

Supported by The Japan Foundation