RARA-AVIS: High and Low/King's Ransom

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 18 Aug 2003

I just got back from seeing High and Low, Akira Kurosawa's adaptation of Ed McBain's King's Ransom. Amazing film. I had just read the book (if I am going to read a book, I like to do it before seeing a film adaptation). It's pretty interesting to compare the two.

Both have the same premise -- kidnappers accidentally snatch the kid of the chauffeur instead of that of the rich shoe company executive. They expect the exec to pay anyway. He is in the middle of a hotile takeover of his company and paying the ransom will ruin him. "Snatch the servant's kid" is now a standard plot. I've seen it used many times, especially on TV cop shows. Was McBain the first to use it?

However, the two versions split about halfway through.

SPOILER ALERT (for both book and film)

King's Ransom is a tight thriller that alternates between the kidnappers and the cops waiting for ransom instructions with the the exec. The exec refuses to pay the ransom, but goes through the paces with the cops anyway (with a box of cut-up newspapers instead of cash) and helps capture the kidnappers. They get the kid back. And everyone lives happily ever after.

High and Low is entirely from the cops' point of view. The exec decides at the last minute to pay the ransom and they get the kid back. At first I thought this was a copout to avoid the hard choices the exec had to make in the book. However, the movie is only half over. The kidnappers get away with the money and the exec's finances start circling the drain.

The rest of the movie is a very detailed police procedural about trying to catch the criminals, with some very interesting Japanese legal differences -- it seems that kidnapping the wrong kid is a lesser offense because he is not extorting money from the victim's family. There are several very long scenes where numerous pairs of cops sum up their part of the ongoing investigation -- looking into the stolen cars, looking for a phone booth with the right sightlines, checking out disgruntled employees, tracking down where the kid was held based on his drawing, etc. It is a testament to Kursawa's skill, and that of the actors, that these scenes are riveting.

Then there is a third act, in which they know who the kidnapper is, but don't have enough to throw the book at him, so they decide to watch him, hoping to give him enough rope to hang himself.

Amazing movie.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 18 Aug 2003 EDT