While watching Akira Kurosawa's gripping and suspenseful movie High and Low, I remembered an anecdote from Thomas Friedman's The world is flat where he compares two countries. Take a kid and his dad walking past a grand mansion. In the first country the kid says to his dad "I'll own such a thing one day", in the second the kid swears to his dad "I'll kill that owner one day". The difference? Optimism about future; In the first country the kid knows he could gain wealth by hardwork; the other kid hasn't seen such a thing - the only way he knows about getting there is by looting rich. High and Low is the story of a man who is as despondent as the second kid and that of a rich man, whose life he turns upside down.
Toshiro Mifune plays Kingo Gondo, a highly successful director and second largest shareholder of National Shoe Company. When sales of the company hit a plateau dissent starts brewing against the CEO; dissenting directors get together and try to enlist Gondo's support in overthrowing the chief. They want to reach the masses by manufacturing low quality shoes at cheap prices. Gondo doesn't agree with them, "Shoes are not like hats, they carry one's weight" he says and so "you have to make them sturdy" he reasons, then rebuffs their overtures.
The directors leave his home in huff with every intention of taking him down. But Gondo has an ace up his sleeve, very quietly he has amassed the shares of National Shoe company and just that evening he is on the verge of closing a deal - for which he has mortgaged everything he has- that would give him absolute control of the company.
తానొకటి తలిస్తే దైవమొకటి తలచినట్టు, he receives an anonymous call a few minutes later. The caller threatens to kill Gondo's son unless 30million yen is paid in ransom. Shocked, but unable to think of a way out, Gondo decides to pay up. But then he realizes that the kidnapper took his driver's son by mistake. The kidnapper realizes this too, calls a little later and informs him that he will have to pay up anyway.
Its his future and every thing he has worked for on one side - and the life of an innocent kid on the other. Gondo decides to take a chance and not pay up. The rest of the movie is about whether the kid is rescued and if the kidnapper brought to justice.
Kurosawa managed to glue me to my seat with suspenseful narration for the movie's entire duration. The scenes of investigators piecing clues together in their hunt for the kidnapper is just amazing. Various teams, each focussed on different aspects of the case bring in tidbits, that are laboriously pieced together, brilliantly deduced and followed-through. While the suspense doesn't let up for a long time, the jigsaw puzzle taking a shape gives viewer much satisfaction.
The divide and conquer method police use and the way they analyze all the clues, video tapes and audio recordings, and the way they improvise in sticky situations is a treat to watch. The idea of planting tell-tale items in the ransom bag, that would give away kidnapper's location when he tries to destroy the bag is very good. Because of the ploy, we see the only color shot in the all-black-and-white movie, pink smoke bellowing out of a refuse burner's pipe.
Tatsuya Nakadai (who would later play the lead in Kurosawa's Kagemusha) as the leader of the investigation is just too good. Takashi Shimura plays a silent role as the department head. Mifune plays the part of 'tough-like-nails' aggressive businessman role with great ease. Also, the dignity with which he takes his fall is amazing. The latter half of the movie also gives us a good insight into the kidnapper's devilish, devious mind and the decaying world he inhabits. His meticulous planning and the way he dodges his pursuers for a long time is shown well.
All in all, a great movie from the master director.