Monday, March 21, 2011

High and Low - Movie Review

The other day I found some classics in Landmark with a 1+1 sale offer and found some good ones in them. Among them was Akira Kurosawa's 1963 movie High and Low which was based on an English novel by Ed McBain, King's Ransom.

The movie is the story of a shoe company director Gondo who is on the verge of a split with the other director's of the firm. They want to make cheap shoes and want Gondo to support them in the Director's meeting. Gondo believes in making good shoes just as the chief promoter does and refuses, triggering lots of animosity in the gentlemen. Of course Gondo has bigger plans - he has secretly acquired more stake over the years to make his stake quite large. Now he has also raised money by mortgaging everything for 50 million dollars to purchase some more equity which will make his the controlling stake. Even as he raises a toast to his well made plans, with the greatest risk, he gets a call. The caller says that his son has been kidnapped and he must pay the ransom of 30 million dollars. Gondo agrees immediately, despite knowing that he is finished if he parts with the 30 million, saying he can always raise more money.

In a short while the boy walks in. It is then that they realise that the boy's friend, the chauffeur's son has been kidnapped by mistake. But the caller still sticks to his demand. He tells Gondo to pay else the boy dies. Gondo refuses. His wife pleads with him to pay, his chauffeur does too. The police who have been called in to help watch mutely. Finally Gondo agrees to pay and they strike a deal. The money and Gondo must be on the Bullet train where he will get further instructions and also a sight of the boy. After seeing the boy, he will be told what to do with the money. The police try to film the people on the road, the boy is seen and Gondo throws his future away. In the best scene of the movie, Gondo gets off at the next station and goes back to where the boy is left standing. He races to hug the boy, who races to him and that shot brings tears to the eyes, so well and so genuine did it look. And the police look on and decide that they will ferret out the kidnapper like bloodhounds.

Gondo's lenders look to attach his properties. His company throws him out. The police form a crack team and chase the kidnapper who is obviously a smart man. How they narrow down to the kidnapper who uses several people and disposes of them in his quest for money and comfort is the rest of the story.

As a thriller it worked for me. As a story with human emotions at play it is superb  Gondo's dilemma, his wife's conviction that the chauffeur's son must be treated as their own, the chauffeur's own dilemma as to whether he can ask for such a huge favour from his boss for the life of his son, the police who watch all this happening in front of their eyes as they make up their mind that Gondo is a noble man and they must help recover his money, the kidnapper and his motives - they are all superb. The movie is taut and moves at a rapid pace. I was engrossed the entire length. However in comparison to today's movies it is rather long. The chase itself, the kidnapper's back story and how the police close in are rather slow and deliberate. Maybe those days they had to establish and build the case. Now, we assume many things as the movie skips them and goes on. But the final scene is a great one again - one that makes you wonder, one that haunts you. It is not as simple as catching the bad guy and shooting him off - life has more angles to it and the movie does not let you leave so easily.

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