High and Low (1963)

This is going to be an uncharacteristically long review this time around because I have a lot to say about this film. High and Low, or Tengoku to jigoku, is a film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It’s about a man who loses everything when his chauffeur’s son is kidnapped and held for ransom. The movie is essentially broken up into 3 acts: the ransom, finding the kidnapper and arresting the kidnapper.

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In the first act, Gondo is a high up executive of a shoe company who is attempting a take over so that he can create quality shoes that he believes the public deserves. Right off the bat, he’s a very likable and heroic character. He stands up against all the executives who are dead set on producing the cheapest shoes for maximum profit. This man actually has morals and a good work ethic, and I was really rooting for him to take over the company. Of course that isn’t going to happen because he gets a phone call saying that his son has been kidnapped and to get him back he must pay 30 million in ransom. Very quickly, he finds out that it was actually his chauffeur’s son instead and he says something to the chauffeur to the effect of, “It’s okay, he’ll let him go when he realizes he has the wrong kid.” It’s this false optimism you get when you know something bad is coming, and you just don’t want to face the ugly truth until you absolutely have to. After the police are phoned in, they tell him things aren’t going to work out that way and the kid isn’t going to just be released. The next 20 or 30 minutes of the film are intense as Gondo slowly comes to the realization that he has to pay the 30 million. He knows that his life is ruined whether he pays it or not, but he can’t just let a child be killed. I felt every minute of this movie up until the boy is re-united with his father. It was just great writing and acting all around.

However, I wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t find something that made me scratch my head in confusion. Once Gondo realizes that he has to pay the ransom, he phones up his bank and almost word for word says, “It’s Gondo from National Shoe. I need 30 million delivered to my house in non-sequential bills.” And they actually give it to him! No security question, no pin number, they just hand it right over. If it’s this easy to have 30 million delivered to your house why didn’t the kidnapper just spend some time learning to mimic his voice then make the call himself? Even for 1963 this seems a little ridiculous.

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I can look past that though and move on to the second act which is about the police trying to find out who the kidnapper is. They have a large team of detectives on the case that use interesting clues to start building up a profile on the guy. They use the different sounds of trolleys, the placement of the sun when the ransom call was made, and they even stopped every car of the model they were after just in case the plates were changed. I found those little details quite entertaining and for me it injected some realism into the film. Now, I’m not sure if this was just the subtitles that I was using, but one guy stands up and says, “I met with The National Shoe executives. What a bunch of assholes,” and I just laughed out loud. His deadpan delivery and the fact that they seriously are a bunch of assholes was perfect. At that point, I was pretty much convinced that it was someone in the company that kidnapped his son, or one of them hired someone so that Gondo couldn’t purchase the shares to take control of the company. The timing of it all seemed too perfect. Literally, right as he is getting the money together, he gets this phone call out of nowhere. Sadly, it started to look like I was wrong as they closed in on the man responsible and finally got a name.

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This leads into the third act where the movie started to slow down a little bit for me. They know who the kidnapper is and now they’re trying to arrest him. However, they don’t want him to just get 15 years, they want him to be executed. The way they go about it didn’t really work for me because they pretty much bait him into trying to re-kill the heroin addicts that he killed earlier in the movie. I’m not a detective or anything, but I feel like this is entrapment. I don’t think you can try to coax someone into committing a crime and have it hold up in court. Not only that, but a woman died because of it. If they just arrested him immediately she would still be alive, albeit still a withdrawing heroin addict, but at least she wouldn’t be dead. The ending just left me feeling sad for everyone involved. Gondo sounded like a man who started at the bottom and worked his way up the ladder through hard work, but the kidnapper just sees him as some rich guy that doesn’t deserve what he has. This guy was clearly mentally ill, and because of that, Gondo’s, and even the chauffeur’s, family has to suffer.

Even though the third act let me down, I really did enjoy this film. It was exciting, interesting and well written. I highly recommend this movie if you like crime dramas.

This is Bwaffles from the Waffleton Post, can I have a Verdict of 9/10 delivered to High and Low?

Rashomon (1950)

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There isn’t much else I can say other than this movie has messed with my head. I wasn’t really too interested in it for the first 20 minutes or so, then I started to realize what the plot was about and began enjoying it more and more with each version of the story that was told. This was like Life of Pi but with even more versions of the story. Normally I don’t like being lied to or tricked in a movie cause usually it’s done in a cheap way to throw some twist in because the writers got lazy. In this case, the trick/twist/lie was that the guy with the axe that found the body didn’t tell the story as it really happened. I pretty much assumed that it happened how I saw it on screen, only later did I realize that the whole movie was about as accurate as a friend telling you a story about something amazing they did 20 years ago or a 5 year old telling you how your new 60″ TV screen was cracked. People have a tendency to lie to cover their asses or make themselves seem better than they are. This movie really played with that and by the end had me scratching my head. Maybe one version was right, maybe none of them were right. I feel like the woman’s story was more accurate because she admitted to killing someone which I don’t think a lot of people would do in court… especially if everyone else was saying how she didn’t do it. Although, if everyone is saying it wasn’t her then maybe her saying it really was her is a lie and she really didn’t do it. Or maybe the movie was saying that men lie and women tell the truth, but that they’re cold blooded killers. Quite the puzzler and is worthy of a repeat viewing down the line.

Now, if I may, as is tradition I will go into the things that I somewhat disliked. The laughing was incredibly over the top and actually pretty annoying near the end. I suppose in everyone’s version of the story they may have embellished things a little to make Tajomaru seem more insane and evil, but that doesn’t really explain why he laughed like a madman at the court. Perhaps he is just a madman after all, it doesn’t make the laugh any less annoying though. I was also not too impressed with the court scenes. I guess this movie was 12 years older than Harakiri, but I loved the talking scenes in that movie so much more. In this one it was very one sided… almost as if we were the judge… woah. You know what, that was actually kind of awesome. And the “judge” never asked the questions, it was always the one telling the story that sort of repeated the question and then answered it. It was like we were in the movie the entire time! Ok I guess I can’t say anything bad about that, but this next part I really didn’t like, I promise. The scenes like when the guy with the axe was walking through the woods reminded me a lot of a silent movie. Exaggerated movements, no speech and constant music. I will admit here that I am not a fan of silent movies. I’ve seen 3 or 4 of them and it just didn’t do it for me. A lot of the comedic elements in this movie didn’t really do it for me either. Maybe you had to live in Japan in the 40s to truly get that kind of humor, but I didn’t and it pulled me out of the movie whenever it happened.

It took quite a bit of pondering to write this post and as a result of that and of my mid-sentence realization I have decided to give a better verdict to this film. For a 1950 movie, I think the story was excellent and the camera work was just as fantastic. I can see why this movie is on so many top lists now. It wasn’t my favorite old Japanese movie, but it definitely makes me more interested to watch the others I have on my list.

Verdict: 8/10 AHAHAHAHAHA