Throughout his career, director Akira Kurosawa regularly brought his distinctively Eastern vision to Western cinematic elements, with fascinating results. But whereas Kurosawas best-known films, including 1950s Rashomon and 1961s Yojimbo, tend to be set in a medieval Japan strode by samurai, 1963s High and Low is a contemporary crime tale, albeit one whose moral complications echo themes in his other work.
Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawas favorite leading man, stars as Mr. Gondo, a shoe-company executive whose plans to seize power at his firm are thrown into chaos when a man kidnaps the son of his chauffeur and then threatens to kill the boy if Gondo doesnt pay. The films opening section is a virtual one-act play, with Gondo practically torn asunder by conflicting emotions, whereas the second half turns into a police procedural that pushes him off stage for significant stretches. Given the power of Mifunes volcanic performance, thats unfortunate but the investigation is handled with such precision and clarity that its enthralling in and of itself. The movie cuts deep, even though theres not a sword in sight.