Toshiro Mifune is Kingo, an executive plotting to take over his company and force out the board who wants to make inferior products for higher profit – so he’s set up as one of the good rich guys. In the city below, in the shadow of Kingo’s ostentatious house atop a hill, a medical intern doesn’t see the goodness, just the richness, kidnaps Kingo’s son and demands millions in ransom. Turns out the kidnapper got the chauffeur’s son by mistake, but still insists on his ransom, and Kingo pays it, becoming a media hero.
Meanwhile, Detective Tokura (Tatsuya Nakadai, star of Harakiri) is hot on the case with his team tracking the kidnapper, going way further than Stray Dog into the lower depths of the city, culminating in a grimy alley full of strung-out addicts, where kidnapper Takeuchi (Tsutomu Yamazaki, later of Tampopo and Farewell to the Ark) kills a woman with a knockout dose of uncut heroin, a test for his plan to get rid of his accomplices. Few visceral thrills, mostly a slow and methodical investigation, leading to an ambiguous ending – the kidnapper/killer providing no clear answers, and Mifune starting over (not exactly, but it’s starting over from a rich guy’s perspective) with his own small business.
Based on an American pulp crime novel. Bernstein gave a good intro and Q&A, and G. O’Brien has a nice long Criterion essay.
From samurai to shoe manufacturer: Gondo retains the combative instincts and self-conscious pride of an earlier era while struggling to reconcile himself to life as a company man. Much like Kurosawa (who had left Toho to form his own production company in 1960) fending off the perceived cheapening of Japanese cinema, Gondo touts the virtues of his own individualistic path: “I’ll make my ideal shoes: comfortable, durable, yet stylish. Expensive to make maybe, but profitable in the long run.”
The pink smoke—the only burst of color in a black-and-white film—marks the moment when the film definitively descends from heaven to hell, the point of entry being a dump that burns “everything that can’t be disinfected.” This is the juncture when those above finally take notice of the life below them, even if only in the form of burned evidence. Those below, on the other hand, could always see what was above them. “From down there,” as the inspector notes on his arrival in Gondo’s apartment, “if he’s got a telescope, the kidnapper can see this entire room.” The kidnapper, then, has possessed from the beginning the same power as Kurosawa’s camera: to command space and find every hiding place within Gondo’s seemingly impregnable aerie. To hide from those eyes, even the police are forced to crawl on the floor.