High and Low (1963 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
High and Low
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAkira Kurosawa
Screenplay by
Based onKing's Ransom
by Evan Hunter
Produced byAkira Kurosawa[1]
Edited byAkira Kurosawa[1]
Music byMasaru Sato[1]
Release date
  • 1 March 1963 (1963-03-01) (Japan)
Running time
143 minutes[1]
Budget¥230 million[2]
Box office¥460.2 million[3]

High and Low (Japanese: 天国と地獄, Hepburn: Tengoku to Jigoku, literally "Heaven and Hell") is a 1963 Japanese police procedural crime film directed and edited by Akira Kurosawa and written by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Eijiro Hisaita, and Ryûzô Kikushima. The film is loosely based on the 1959 novel King's Ransom by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter). It follows the story of a board member for a Japanese company who is forced to make a decision between using a vast amount of wealth to gain executive control and helping his employee by lending him the money to free his child from kidnappers.

The film stars Toshiro Mifune as Kingo Gondo, a wealthy man who puts himself into debt in a risky bid to enact a hostile takeover of National Shoes, and Tatsuya Nakadai as Inspector Tokura, the man charged with solving the kidnapping case.


A wealthy executive named Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is in a struggle to gain control of a company called National Shoes. One faction wants the company to make cheap, low-quality shoes for the impulse market as opposed to the sturdy and high-quality shoes the company is currently known for. Gondo believes that the long-term future of the company will be best served by well-made shoes with modern styling, though this plan is unpopular because it means lower profits in the short term. He has secretly set up a leveraged buyout to gain control of the company, mortgaging all he has.

Just as he is about to put his plan into action, he receives a phone call from someone claiming to have kidnapped his son, Jun. Gondo is prepared to pay the ransom, but the call is dismissed as a prank when Jun comes in from playing outside. However, Jun's playmate, Shinichi, the child of Gondo's chauffeur, is missing and the kidnappers have mistakenly abducted him instead.

In another phone call, the kidnapper reveals that he has discovered his mistake but still demands the same ransom. Gondo is now forced to make a decision about whether to pay the ransom to save the child or complete the buyout. After a long night of contemplation Gondo announces that he will not pay the ransom, explaining that doing so would not only mean the loss of his position in the company, but cause him to go into debt and throw the futures of his wife and son into jeopardy. His plans are weakened when his top aide lets the "cheap shoes" faction know about the kidnapping in return for a promotion should they take over. Finally, after continuous pleading from the chauffeur and under pressure from his wife, Gondo decides to pay the ransom. Following the kidnapper's instructions, the money is put into two small briefcases and thrown out from a moving train; Shinichi is found unharmed.

Gondo is forced out of the company and his creditors demand the collateral in lieu of the debt. The story is widely reported however, making Gondo a hero, while the National Shoe Company is vilified and boycotted. Meanwhile, the police eventually find the hideout where Shinichi was kept prisoner. The bodies of the kidnapper's two accomplices are found there, killed by an overdose of heroin. The police surmise that the kidnapper engineered their deaths by supplying them with uncut drugs. Further clues lead to the identity of the kidnapper, a medical intern at a nearby hospital, but there is no hard evidence linking him to the accomplices' murders.

The police lay a trap by first planting a false story in the newspapers implying that the accomplices are still alive, and then forging a note from them demanding more drugs. The kidnapper is then apprehended in the act of trying to supply another lethal dose of uncut heroin to his accomplices, after testing the strength on a drug addict who overdoses and dies. Most of the ransom money is recovered, but too late to save Gondo's property from auction. With the kidnapper facing a death sentence, he requests to see Gondo while in prison and Gondo finally meets him face to face. Gondo has gone to work for a rival shoe company, earning less money but enjoying a free hand in running it. The kidnapper at first feigns no regrets for his actions. As he reveals that envy from seeing Gondo's house on the hill every day led him to conceive of the crime, his emotions gradually gain control over him and he ends up breaking down emotionally before Gondo after finally facing his failure.


Main cast[edit]

  • Toshiro Mifune as Kingo Gondo (権藤 金吾, Gondo Kingo)
  • Tatsuya Nakadai as Inspector Tokura (戸倉警部), the chief investigator in the kidnapping case.
  • Kyōko Kagawa as Reiko Gondo (権藤伶子, Gondo Reiko)
  • Tatsuya Mihashi as Kawanishi (河西), Gondo's secretary.
  • Kenjiro Ishiyama as Chief Detective 'Bos'n' Taguchi (田口), Tokura's partner.
  • Isao Kimura as Detective Arai (荒井)
  • Takeshi Katō as Detective Nakao (中尾)
  • Yutaka Sada as Aoki (青木), Gondo's Chauffeur.
  • Tsutomu Yamazaki as Ginjirô Takeuchi (竹内 銀次郎, Takeuchi Ginjiro), the mastermind and chief instigator of the kidnapping plot.
  • Takashi Shimura as the Chief of the Investigation Section
  • Susumu Fujita as Manager of Investigations
  • Yoshio Tsuchiya as Detective Murata (村田)
  • Jun Tazaki as Kamiya, National Shoes Publicity Director (神谷)
  • Nobuo Nakamura as Ishimaru, National Shoes Design Department Director (石丸)
  • Yunosuke Ito as Baba, National Shoes Executive (馬場)
  • Masahiko Shimizu as Shinichi Aoki (青木 進一, Aoki Shinichi), the chauffeur's son who is kidnapped at the beginning of the film.

Other characters[edit]


High and Low was filmed at Toho Studios and on location in Yokohama.[1] Kurosawa included cameos by many of his popular stock performers, making its star-studded cast one of the film's best-remembered highlights.[4] The film foregrounds the modern infrastructure of the economic miracle years and the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, including rapid rail lines and the proliferation of personal automobiles.[5]


The script originally ended with Inspector Tokura and Gondo having a conversation before Kurosawa changed his opinion in the edit.[6]


Preparing for the scene wherein money is dropped through the open window of a Kodama express train the filmmakers made numerous enquiries to Japanese National Railways; unaware of the reason for their questions one official eventually asked "Who are you people?". The train was hired and the scene was shot while the train was running along the Tōkaidō Line. Reportedly the actors rehearsed the scene on-set for a week before the one take.[7] According to Teruyo Nogami, script supervisor on many of Kurosawa's films, claims that Kurosawa ordered the destruction of a private home because it was blocking the kidnapper actor's face are exaggerated. Instead a blue sheet was used to disguise alterations made to the second floor of a nearby building, a job conceived and executed just a day before filming took place.[8]

During the final scene, Yamazaki Tsutomu, playing the kidnapping mastermind, burnt his hands on the wire mesh from the heat of the lighting. The role launched him to acting success, appearing in two more of Kurosawa's films (Red Beard, and Kagemusha) and starring in the popular 1970s jidaigeki television drama Hissatsu Shiokinin.[9]

The film is shot using CinemaScope, a widescreen filming system.


The original script ending was changed when Kurosawa noted the performance of Yamazaki as especially powerful.[10]


Scored by Masaru Satō, this was the eighth film he worked on with Akira Kurosawa, the film includes stock music from The H-Man (1958), the music of which was also produced by Satō.[11]


American trailer for High and Low


High and Low was released in Japan on 1 March 1963.[1] In August of the same year it would be entered into the Venice Film Festival, being nominated for the Golden Lion although it would not see a general release in Italy for a few years afterwards. The film was released by Toho International with English subtitles in the United States on 26 November 1963.[1][11] It received a wider release in Europe from 1967 onwards, premiering in the UK in April and Spain in July; but not in France until 1976.[12]

Home media[edit]

The Criterion Collection released the film on DVD on 14 October 1998 and again with updated picture and sound quality on 22 July 2008. A Blu-Ray version was released on 26 July 2011.[13][14]

The BFI released a DVD of the film on 28 March 2005.


Upon release in the United States, some critics questioned whether investigative techniques such as handwriting profiling and voiceprint analysis were possible in Japan at the time.[15]

Box office[edit]

The film was a box office success in Japan, garnering ¥460.2 million in ticket sales.[7][16] The film was re-released in the USA in 2002 as part of the Kurosawa & Mifune festival; a multi-title release that in total accrued $561,692.[17]

Critical response[edit]

Contemporary reviews of the film achieved a positive consensus. The New York Times declared it to be "one of the best detecting thrillers ever filmed," going on to commend the performance of Mifune and Nakadai and finally commenting, "Mr. Kurosawa has composed a remarkable movie mosaic, both spine-tingling and compassionate".[18] The Washington Post wrote that "High and Low is, in a way, the companion piece to Throne of Blood – it's Macbeth, if Macbeth had married better. The movie shares the rigors of Shakespeare's construction, the symbolic and historical sweep, the pacing that makes the story expand organically in the mind".[19] Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic after asking why Kurosawa wanted to make High and Low, wrote "To say all this is not, I hope, to discourage the reader from seeing this film. Very much the reverse. Two hours and twenty three minutes of fine entertainment are not a commonplace achievement. Also, from the opening frame (literally) to the last, Kurosawa never makes the smallest misstep nor permits it in anyone else".[20]

Scott Tobias of The AV Club commented on the film's split nature, seeing it as split in half between the indoor tension of negotiation at the beginning, and the race-against-time of the investigation to find the kidnapper. He praises Kurosawa for turning the "mundane follow-through of police work into the stuff of white-knuckle suspense."

David Parkinson writing for Empire in 2006 gave it four out of five stars, commenting on the film's use of "deceptive appearance" to illustrate that "all men are essentially equal and the only thing that really separates them are the choices they make in the depths of a crisis."[21]

Martin Scorsese included it on a list of "39 Essential Foreign Films for a Young Filmmaker."[22]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, High and Low has an approval rating of 96% based on 24 reviews, with an average score of 8/10.[23] In 2009 the film was voted at No. 13 on the list of The Greatest Japanese Films of All Time by Japanese film magazine Kinema Junpo.[24]


The film is consistently ranked among Kurosawa's greatest works despite failing to achieve the same level of notoriety as Rashomon or Seven Samurai.

In emphasising the lenient sentencing of Japanese kidnapping law, High and Low is said to have been partially responsible for reform of the Penal Code in 1964.[25]


The Indian film Inkaar (1977) has been described as a Bollywood reproduction of the film.[26]

The film was adapted for Japanese TV in 2007 by Yasuo Tsuruhashi.

The story for the 2023 miniseries Full Circle was inspired by High and Low.[27]

Apple Original Films announced on 8th February 2024, via X, that Spike Lee will be directing a reinterpretation, with Denzel Washington starring, in collaboration with A24. Filming starts in March of the same year.[28]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Venice Film Festival (1964)
Mainichi Film Award (1963)

Golden Globe Awards (1964)

  • Nominated – Best Foreign Film[29]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Galbraith IV 1996, p. 213.
  2. ^ Itō 1976, p. 408.
  3. ^ Kinema Junpo 2012, p. 190.
  4. ^ "20 years with Akira Kurosawa". Bungei Shunju. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  5. ^ Conrad, David A. (2022). Akira Kurosawa and Modern Japan, p156-64, McFarland & Co.
  6. ^ 望月苑巳 (2018-02-28). "【没後20年 知って得する黒澤映画トリビア】山崎努の演技も熱かったけど"金網"も熱かった「天国と地獄」(2/2ページ)". zakzak:夕刊フジ公式サイト (in Japanese). Retrieved 2024-02-15.
  7. ^ a b "黒澤明「天国と地獄」は刑法改正のきっかけになった!「赤ひげ」は三船敏郎との最後の作品になった。". star-director.info. Retrieved 2024-01-23.
  8. ^ 野上 Nogami, 照代 Teruyo (27 January 2014). もう一度天気待ち 監督・黒澤明とともに (in Japanese).
  9. ^ 望月苑巳 (2018-02-28). "【没後20年 知って得する黒澤映画トリビア】山崎努の演技も熱かったけど"金網"も熱かった「天国と地獄」(2/2ページ)". zakzak:夕刊フジ公式サイト (in Japanese). Retrieved 2024-02-15.
  10. ^ 望月苑巳 (2018-02-28). "【没後20年 知って得する黒澤映画トリビア】山崎努の演技も熱かったけど"金網"も熱かった「天国と地獄」(2/2ページ)". zakzak:夕刊フジ公式サイト (in Japanese). Retrieved 2024-02-15.
  11. ^ a b Galbraith IV 1996, p. 214.
  12. ^ High and Low (1963) - Release info - IMDb, retrieved 2024-02-15
  13. ^ "High and Low". criterionforum.org. Retrieved 2024-01-16.
  14. ^ "High and Low". criterionforum.org. Retrieved 2024-01-16.
  15. ^ 望月苑巳 (2018-02-28). "【没後20年 知って得する黒澤映画トリビア】山崎努の演技も熱かったけど"金網"も熱かった「天国と地獄」(2/2ページ)". zakzak:夕刊フジ公式サイト (in Japanese). Retrieved 2024-02-15.
  16. ^ Kinema Junpo 2012, 190.
  17. ^ "High and Low". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2024-01-16.
  18. ^ "'High and Low,' a Movie of Suspense, Arrives From Japan". The New York Times. 1963-11-27. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2024-01-16.
  19. ^ Attanasio, Paul (November 7, 1968) "High and Low" (review) The Washington Post
  20. ^ Kauffmann, Stanley (1968). A world on Film. Delta Books. p. 384.
  21. ^ "High and Low". Empire. 2006-06-04. Retrieved 2024-01-16.
  22. ^ "Martin Scorsese Creates a List of 39 Essential Foreign Films for a Young Filmmaker". Open Culture. 15 October 2014. Archived from the original on February 7, 2015. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  23. ^ "High and Low". Rotten Tomatoes.
  24. ^ "Greatest Japanese films by magazine Kinema Junpo (2009 version)". Archived from the original on July 11, 2012. Retrieved 2011-12-26.
  25. ^ "黒澤明「天国と地獄」は刑法改正のきっかけになった!「赤ひげ」は三船敏郎との最後の作品になった。". star-director.info. Retrieved 2024-01-23.
  26. ^ Amit, R. "Visions of Trans-Asian Orientalism: Indo-Japanese Cinematic Plagiarism, Misrepresentations, and Voluntary Blindness," in Japan beyond its Borders: Transnational Approaches to Film and Media (2020), edited by Marcos P. Centeno-Martín and Norimasa Morita. 317.
  27. ^ Lang, Brent (2023-06-12). "Steven Soderbergh on His New Miniseries 'Full Circle,' Not Sweating A.I. and Why Cellphones Are the 'Worst Thing That's Ever Happened to Movies'". Variety. Retrieved 2023-07-28.
  28. ^ Klawans, Justin (8 February 2024). "Many Have Failed to Remake Kurosawa's 'High and Low' — Spike Lee and Denzel Washington Will Try". Collider. Retrieved 8 February 2024.
  29. ^ "High And Low". Golden Globes. Retrieved 2024-01-16.


External links[edit]