Based on crime writer Ed McBain's detective novel King's Ransom, High and Low is a gripping police thriller starring Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune. Wealthy industrialist Kingo Gondo (Mifune) faces an agonising choice when a ruthless kidnapper, aiming to snatch his young son, takes the chauffeur's boy by mistake – but still demands the ransom. Gondo, engaged in a precarious scheme to seize control of the shoe company he works for, faces ruin if he pays up.
Although the film is based on the McBain novel, Kurosawa essentially takes the plot outline – a kidnapping that goes wrong and the moral dilemma it poses – and, with his scriptwriters, turns it into something more ambiguous and complex; an anatomy of the inequalities in modern Japanese society.
High and Low is an intricate film noir, where the intense police hunt for the kidnapper, led by the tenacious Inspector Tokuro (Tatsuya Nakadai), is accompanied by penetrating insight into the kidnapper's state of mind. Kurosawa's virtuoso direction provides no easy answers, and in short, intense sequences he portrays the businessman, the police and the criminal as equally brutal but nonetheless human.