After Film Walrus so graciously gifted me with a Netflix account, I decided to immediately take advantage of it to check out a movie I’ve wanted to see for a good while now, but never had the opportunity.
Akira Kurosawa is a legendary Japanese filmmaker, probably most famous for his samurai period pieces such as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Rashomon. While those are all well and good, Kurosawa also made contemporary Japanese cinema, as well. Having already seen the phenomenal, powerful Ikiru, I entered High and Low with high (no pun intended? \:3) expectations.
Kurosawa’s BFF, Toshiro Mifune, is Gondo, an executive of a shoe company that has poured his heart and soul into over the years, to the detriment of his family life. When other executives plot to take over the company and make cheap shoes, he mortgages all he owns in order to stage a coup to take control of the company. Then the worst possible thing happens. He gets a phone call saying that his son has been kidnapped, and the kidnapper will safely return him if Gondo gives him… almost all the money he was able to raise by mortgaging. Flabbergasted at all of this, he’s of course ready to do anything to get his son back… until he sees his son walk safely through the door. Turns out, the boy was playing with Mifune’s chauffeur’s son, and the kidnapper got them mixed up and kidnapped the wrong one. Now Gondo has to make an excruciating choice: do the right thing and save the boy at the cost of everything he’s worked so hard to get, or ignore the demands and keep his posh lifestyle.
I LOVE movies with difficult ethical/moral dilemmas such as this. And this was no different. Watching Mifune try to choose between doing what’s right and doing what’s right for himself is riveting. But that’s only half the movie. The other half deals with the police attempting to catch the kidnapper and dredging through the absolute nadir of Japanese society. Obviously Kurosawa was trying to make a statement about the disparity between the fortunate and unfortunate and what makes those people different from each other. Gondo lives high at the top of the hill and the kidnapper looks up at him from his slum at the bottom. Instead of taking the typical, easy route of saying “WEALTHY PEOPLE ARE CORRUPT AND POOR PEOPLE ARE NOBLE,” Kurosawa gives us a resolution far more complex and satisfying.
I’d recommend everyone try out this movie, but it has rather limited availability. It’s Criterion Collection, which means that its release has been pristinely preserved, but priced out of the realm of casual buyers and doomed to a limited printing. It’s too expensive for a blind buy and Blockbuster most certainly won’t have it, but if you’re open to good Japanese cinema and have a Netflix account, I strongly urge you to give this one a shot.