High and Low (The Criterion Collection)
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Although best known for his samurai classics, Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa proved himself equally adept at contemporary dramas and thrillers, and 1962's High and Low offers a powerful showcase for Kurosawa's versatile skill. The great Toshiro Mifune stars as a wealthy industrialist who has just raised a large sum of money to execute his planned takeover of a successful shoe manufacturer. Fate intervenes when he receives a phone call informing him that his son has been kidnapped, and by unfortunate coincidence the ransom demand is nearly equivalent to the amount Mifune has raised for his corporate coup. A philosophical dilemma emerges when it is revealed that the executive's son is safe, and that it is actually his chauffeur's son who has been taken. What follows is both a tense detective thriller, as the police attempt to track down the kidnapper, and a compelling illustration of class division in Japan--the "high and low" of the title. Far be it from Kurosawa to make a mere thriller, however; this loose adaptation of the Ed McBain novel King's Ransom provides the director with ample opportunity to develop a visual strategy that perfectly enhances the story's sociological themes. The Criterion Collection DVD of this extraordinary film is presented in the original "Tohoscope" aspect ratio of 2.35:1. --Jeff Shannon