Friday, July 9, 2010

Amazing Plot Twist.

I am a fan of the films of Akira Kurosawa (Stray Dog, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Kagemusha and Ran to name a few). Recently I watched High and Low (aka Heaven and Hell) Kurosawa’s 1963 thriller with Toshiro Mifune.

Told in two acts, the first is about a wealthy executive named Kingo Gondo (Mifune) who mortgages all he has to stage a leveraged buyout and gain control of a company called National Shoes, with the intent of keeping the company out of the hands of its other executives. Gondo disagrees with the executives over the direction of the company. One faction wants to make the company a modern mass market low quality manufacturer while the founder of the company tries to keep it conservative with good quality. Gondo believes he can split the difference by making high quality modern shoes. Then he is told that his son has been kidnapped. Gondo is prepared to pay the ransom, until he learns that the kidnappers have mistakenly abducted the child of Gondo's chauffeur, instead of his own son.
The kidnapping occurs in parallel with the corporate buyout drama and Gondo is forced to make a decision about whether to pay the ransom or complete the buyout. His vulnerable position is exposed to the other executives when his top aide betrays him to protect himself. Finally, after a long night of contemplation and pressure from his wife and the chauffeur, Gondo decides to pay the ransom. This decision essentially seals his fate, as the other executives now have the power to vote him out of his directorship, leaving him hopelessly indebted. This move ends up making Gondo into a national hero, while the National Shoe Company is vilified and boycotted.
The second act follows police procedure as they put together clues to find the ransom money, and the kidnapper. It is revealed that the main kidnapper is in fact a medical intern at a nearby hospital, whose sole motive is his hatred for Gondo which stems from jealousy. His apartment is directly under Gondo's significantly larger house on an overlooking hill, one of the many hints of the film's title throughout the film. As the kidnapper gets rid of his accomplices by causing them to overdose on drugs, the detective hatches a plot to catch him when all seems lost. The detective lures him out of hiding by pretending that his accomplices survived his attempt to dispatch them. Most of the ransom money is recovered, but too late for Gondo to avert financial ruin. With the kidnapper facing a death sentence, he and Gondo finally meet face to face at the very end, and motives and feelings are examined.
For me the most dramatic moment of the film is when Gondo learns who has really been kidnapped. Now that he knows his own son is safe should he pay the ransom for the son of his lowly chauffeur? It’s a wonderful and unexpected twist in the plot. There really is no reason why Gondo should involve himself further. Why jeopardize the big business deal he is about to complete? His whole future rests on that deal and ransoming his driver’s son would virtually mean the ruining of that deal. And yet that is what Gondo does. He pays the ransom, not out of logic, but compassion. Kurosawa uses this plot device to reveal his character’s humanity.
This reminds me of a similar plot twist found in the Biblical story. Fallen humanity gives God no reason to be saved. All have sinned, all have fallen short of God’s glory, yet God reveals his divinity by saving us. In fact God becomes human to do so. It is as if we are all the children of some lowly, undeserving and minor worker, yet that does not stand in the way of God providing the ransom payment for us.
Kurosawa was on the right path…but it seems that God took things even further!

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