High and Low (1963)


High and Low (1963)
Tengoku to jigoku (original title)

A wealthy businessman is told his son has been kidnapped and he will have to pay a very large sum for him to be returned safely. It is then discovered that his son is safe at home: the kidnapper took his chauffeur's son by accident. The kidnapper says this makes no difference: pay up or the child dies. This leaves him with a moral dilemma, as he really needs the money to conclude a very important business deal.
IMDb   8.4 /10
TheMovieDb    8.4 /10
RottenTomatoes  95 %
FilmAffinity   8.4 /10
Director Akira Kurosawa
Writer Hideo Oguni
Writer Ryûzô Kikushima
Writer Eijirô Hisaita
Writer Akira Kurosawa
Writer Evan Hunter
Release Date1963-03-01
Runtime2h 23mins
GenreCrime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Content RatingNot Rated (Not Rated)
AwardsTop Rated Movies #80 | Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 3 wins & 2 nominations.
CompanyKurosawa Production Co., Toho Company
Chief Detective Tokura
Kawanishi - Gondo's Secretary
Detective Arai
Chief Detective 'Bos'n' Taguchi
Detective Nakao
Chief of Investigation Section
Kamiya, National Shoes Publicity Director
Ishimaru, National Shoes Design Department Director
Baba - National Shoes Executive
Ginjirô Takeuchi - Medical Intern
First Reporter
Factory Worker
Prison Warden

High and Low (1963 film)

High and Low (天国と地獄, Tengoku to Jigoku, literally "Heaven and Hell") is a 1963 police procedural crime film directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai and Kyōko Kagawa. The film is loosely based on the 1959 novel King's Ransom by Ed McBain.


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 currently being produced. 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, under pressure from his wife and the chauffeur, Gondo decides to pay the ransom. Following the kidnapper's instructions, the money is put into two small briefcases and thrown from a moving train; Shinichi is found unharmed.

Gondo is forced out of the company and his creditors demand the collateral in lieu of 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.


  • 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)
  • Kōji Mitsui as reporter
  • Minoru Chiaki as reporter
  • Eijirō Tōno as factory worker
  • Kamatari Fujiwara as incineration worker
  • Masao Shimizu as prison director
  • Kyū Sazanka as creditor
  • Akira Nagoya as Yamamoto
  • Kō Nishimura as creditor
  • Jun Hamamura as creditor
  • Ikio Sawamura as trolley man
  • Kin Sugai as addict
  • Masao Oda as executor
  • Gen Shimizu as chief physician
  • Masahiko Shimizu as Shinichi Aoki (青木 進一, Aoki Shinichi), the chauffeur's son who is kidnapped at the beginning of the film.


High and Low was filmed at Toho Studios and on location in Yokohama. The film includes stock music from The H-Man (1958).

Kurosawa included cameos by many of his popular stock performers, making its star-studded cast one of the film's best-remembered highlights.


High and Low was released in Japan on 1 March 1963. The film was released by Toho International with English subtitles in the United States on 26 November 1963.


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".

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".

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, High and Low has an approval rating of 95% based on 20 reviews, with an average score of 7.90/10. 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.