Heaven and Hell (Tengoku to jigoku) is a full-length Japanese movie that was released in 1963. Heaven and Hell was directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa is known world-wide for his amazing movies. While he is most well-known for his historical films, Kurosawa also made movies that detailed the human condition. Heaven and Hell is said to have been based on a novel by an American author named Evan Hunter. Using the pseudonym Ed McBain, Hunter is most remembered for his crime fiction novels. It is said that Kurosawa was influenced by Hunter’s novel, Kings Ransom. Heaven and Hell can also be found under the title High and Low.
Heaven and Hell is better described as being a play that takes place in two acts. In the beginning, the viewer finds Toshirō Mifune, a Kurosawa regular, as a high-flying executive named Kingo Gondo. Gondo wants to get control over the National Shoe Company in order to take complete control of the company. One side of the company wants to make cheap shoes and sell them cheaply. The other side wants to keep making high-quality shoes at expensive prices. Gondo is in the middle. He wants to make good quality modern shoes with low prices.
Gondo mortgages everything he has and is ready to make the purchase when he is told that his son has been kidnapped. The kidnappers demand a very large ransom from Gondo and he gets ready to make the payment when he learns that the kidnappers have messed up. Instead of stealing Gondo’s child, they have taken his chauffeur’s. The buyout is imminent and Gondo is forced to decide if he should pay the ransom or take over the company, as he truly wants to.
Gondo is unable to hide the fact that he wants to get controlling interest when his most trusted aide tells the other side what Gondo is up to. He realizes that his aide only told the other executives about his plans in order to save his own neck, but the betrayal is still bitter. It means that if Gondo does not purchase the stock, the executives will vote him out. Eventually Gondo chooses to pay the ransom. After a long evening of listening to his wife and his chauffeur, he realized that it was the right thing to do. The executives at the National Shoe Company get ready to kick Gondo out when they discover that he has become a national hero. Consumers threaten to boycott the company if they get rid of Gondo.
The second half of the movie is where the crime drama comes in. It follows the police as they attempt to find the kidnapper in order to put him in jail. For Kurosawa, there are no glitzy police scenarios. The viewer can clearly see how grueling police work really is as the case is meticulously built against the criminal. The movie goes from having it all, Heaven, to the lowest depths of Japan’s lower class, thought of as Hell.