Eye For Film >> Movies >> High And Low (1963) Film Review
Based on the Ed McBain detective novel King's Ransom, High And Low opens with a group of businessmen enjoying a lengthy discussion about shoes. It's clear from this that executive Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is a decent bloke. He's the only one who cares that the latest model is a piece of cheap crap that will fall apart in months.
The battle lines are being drawn. These executives have gathered to arrange a hostile takeover. The incumbent president is old-fashioned, but cares about quality, while the takeover gang just want to make a quick buck, churning out high fashion rubbish.
Kingo's been saving for years and he's ready to strike out alone. He doesn't need the others. He can take over the company himself and make beautiful luxury shoes that will last forever. But then it all goes wrong.
Kingo is faced with a terrible dilemma. His son has been kidnapped and it will take all his savings to pay the ransom. But then it emerges that the kidnapper snatched the wrong child. Kingo Jnr is safe at home, but the chauffeur's son will be killed if the money isn't delivered. What will he do?
There's a subtext of social commentary and Japanese class issues - wealthy Kingo lives high on a hill where the air is cool, looking down on the people below, amongst whom is the kidnapper, dwelling in his hot urban hellhole - but no amount of deeper meaning can change the fact that it's all a bit dull. Kingo wrestles with his conscience for what seems like years but a man who cares about quality shoe leather isn't going to let a small boy die for the sake of a few million yen.
There's a dark and moody interlude when it's time to hand over the ransom, but afterwards the action revolves around the police hunt for the kidnapper and Kingo's struggle to rebuild his life. Visually, it's very Hitchcock, but lacks the tension necessary to drive a narrative, which has given up its ace too easily. We know who the kidnapper is, so the hunt is just a pale echo of Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment, with all the suspense sucked out. Certain sequences impart a real sense of claustrophobia and frustration, but the overall effect is simply uneven.Reviewed on: 27 May 2005