High and Low

High and Low ★★★★★

A wealthy shoe maker, Mr. Gondo, sits atop a hill in his elegant mansion which looks down upon the town below him. He shows a clear care for the quality of his work, but also an eagerness to have more, prompting him to risk his entire fortune in a bid to gain control of his company. Then, out of nowhere, his driver’s son is kidnapped, putting him into the ultimate predicament: saving the child’s life, or losing everything. It’s this central dichotomy that drives the first half of the film, and while he does ultimately concede the money, thus saving the child, it’s clear the boy’s safety is not on the forefront of his mind. However, despite the kidnapper’s best efforts, Mr. Gondo becomes a local hero, with the rest of the film being focused on hunting down the perpetrator. This tonal shift half way through the movie works wonders in ensuring the film never gets stale, and the two halves serve to contrast each other expertly. Most of the first half is spent in the mansion on the hill, high above the rest of the town. The house serves as a symbol of superiority to all the onlookers, taunting them and their statuses, all whilst Mr. Gondo handles the fate of another man’s child. 

Whereas the second half is spent down on the ground, looking for clues on how to bring the kidnapper to justice. The police exhaust all leads on how to find the man, having to pry into Mr. Gondo’s life and observe his place in the local community. And as the investigation progresses, this struggle between the wealthy shoe maker and the kidnapper becomes a lot more cyclical in nature. Mr. Gondo is undoubtedly a victim in this situation, but the entire situation is a result of the system that puts men like him at the top and pushes men like the kidnapper to the bottom. In this way, these two characters serve as dark reflections of each other, two sides of the same coin, wherein one side prospered, and the other was left with nothing. The kidnapper himself is left in the shadow for most of the film, and we never quite get a full glimpse into his life. But that’s entirely the point. He is forgotten about; society has cast him aside in favor of people like Mr. Gondo. No one ever cared about his story, and now, no one ever will. We as the audience are left wondering what drove him to such extremes, only for us to come to the realization that something like this was bound to happen in the current economic climate that persists to this day. 

Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low does exactly what the title implies in that very order. It showcases the greed and selfishness of those at the top of society, and spends the rest of the film exploring the people they affect. It strings along an incredibly engaging narrative with an impressive amount of intrigue and suspense, all while conveying relevant social commentary through it’s characters and ideas. The impeccable performances of Toshiro Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai, the pitch-perfect set design, the meticulous cinematography and staging; it all combines to create one of the best crime dramas ever put to film.

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