Toshiro Mifune did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying King Gondo in High and Low.
Toshiro Mifune this time appears as King Gondo the wealthy shoe executive who we first meet as he speaks to his fellow executives about the path for their company. Although he plays a rich man who could be seen as a lager than life sort Mifune actually gives one of his most downplayed performances. In his first scene Mifune makes an important impact as Gondo listens to the idea of his fellow executives which stresses cheating the consumer and making an inferior product. In the scene Gondo at first simply just listens to their plan but then quickly refutes their ideas as wrong. Mifune is very good in portraying the quiet but very forceful passion in the man. Although it may seem a silly even for a man to be so passionate over something as simple as shoes Mifune's earnest portrayal not only makes this believable but sets up Gondo as man who stands up for what he believes in.
Mifune is an actor who seems to consider the body language of a man when creating a character. This is something so natural in his performances that you might not even notice it but it does wonders in telling use both who this man is as well as where it is that he comes from. This is the calmest of all the characters that I have looked at so far, as even the good doctor in The Quiet Duel had a ferocity within his emotional repression, but even in this calmer performance it still reflects the nature of this man. In this time he plays a man who is able to be calm and peace of himself so he can sit still and think and listen very easily. At the same time in this manner though there is a power of personality in King Gondo. Mifune in the way he sits and observes as well as speaks his mine shows an astute and intelligent man ready to fight for what he wants.
Gondo after laying about his plan to seize the show company out from his rival executives though suddenly learns from a phone call that his son has been kidnapped. Mifune's performance in this moment is exactly what it should be. He is nothing but raw emotions as he tries to deal with this sudden turn of events. Mifune doesn't hold back and properly shows that Gondo is absolutely turn about about his son and honestly will do anything to get him back no matter what it takes from him. There is not any thinking or calculation shown in Mifune here instead it is purely the gut reaction of the man as he can think of nothing other than the safety of his son leaving him a nervous emotional wreck who will do just anything he can to try and save his son from harm.
The early twist of the film though occurs in which is that his son has not been kidnapped but instead by accident the son of his chauffeur. Mifune is excellent in his depiction of the change in Gondo as he gains back his composure. Mifune is very good in portraying the change of gears in the man who is relieved almost completely although with still a small seed of concern as he realizes that his chauffeur's son is still in danger. There is quite the change though back to his old manner. Mifune is careful though to show that although Gondo has regained his composure but that it is not that he is not caring about the situation still. Mifune properly sets up the beginning of Gondo's personal struggle with the situation as the kidnapper still demands the same payment even though he has the wrong child.
The succeeding scenes involve Gondo dealing with the idea of whether he will still pay for the life of a child even though it is not his own son and as well giving up the money will ruin his deal with the shoe company and could cost him his lifetime of accomplishments. Mifune is perfect here because of how well he realizes this struggle. How he got to this point was essential though in that Mifune always keeps Gondo as a respectful and decent human being. When speaking of his deal he never seemed to be ruthless businessman, but rather an honest man who both wanted to do what he thought was right but as well gain something he has rightfully worked to his whole life. Mifune creates the utmost sympathy for Gondo without ever seeming to plead for it and while still completely making him the shrewd business man he should be.
The sympathy that Mifune creates for Gondo is essential as he really brings us right into this personal struggle that he is facing. It never feels easy just to throw the money away or just to simply pay off the kidnapper. Mifune allows us to see exactly where Gondo is coming from with what this pay off will mean and he makes the difficult decision that it should be. Gondo if played poorly could have seemed just selfish, but Mifune in his very humanistic turn here powerfully brings to life the emotions going on inside the man's head. Mifune never makes it easy and his portrayal of this conflict within himself is truly something special to behold. The set of scenes are basically a showcase of Mifune's performance and he never once disappoints in bringing the power to the proceedings.
There is not a moment in the very intense scenes of negotiation with the kidnapper or his own deliberations that Mifune does not bring the great weight of the situation. He is absolutely brilliant as Gondo as he calculates every path and honestly looks at the situation. At first he keeps pressing that he cannot use his money no matter what and Mifune never makes this seem like selfishness. In eyes and his pained delivery we see that this is a real loss for Gondo and it is something that goes far beyond monetary loss for him. The fear in Gondo is made truthful and never self absorbed. He makes this decision which Gondo is making as hard as it would be. Even as he states his decision firmly and states his position well, Mifune is terrific in creating the poignancy as the empathy in Gondo for his chauffeur is harder to forget than what losing the money will do to him.
Mifune's portrayal of Gondo's good nature slowly coming through and making him do the right thing is masterful. Mifune does not rush it instead quietly portraying his conscious pulling him the right direction. Mifune's depiction of it is outstanding as he honestly shows the whole struggle in the man and that even when he makes this choice he brings across the true consequences of it all in the man. Not an element of the situation is lost in Mifune's performance. The thoughts of his business and his dream, his future from paying the ransom as well his thoughts for his chauffeur's son are all there at once. The tremendous burden is all there in Mifune's performance, when he finally gives the go ahead to pay we feel just how much Gondo had to go through to reach this point.
This is rather unique for an actor/director collaboration as this film is almost structured as the first half being Mifune's showcase then the second half being Kurosawa's showcase as Mifune becomes almost a ghost for the second half of the film. He is a ghost in that he goes missing for long passages as the film goes about finding the kidnapper leaving King Gondo nothing to do other than wait. He is also a ghost in that when we do see him Mifune powerfully portrays him as a shattered man who can only watch as his life's accomplishments fall apart. Mifune may not appear much but it is actually a testament to the strength of his performance that we do not forget him. Due to his flawless portrayal of Gondo's internal battle he fuels the motivation to see through the external battle to get the criminal.
Mifune does not appear much at all in the second half but we remember him. He comes back for the very important final scene where he finally comes face to face with the kidnapper. Mifune leaves King Gondo as a different man we saw from the beginning as well as the one we saw in the middle. Mifune makes him a combination of the two showing that the experience will not be something he ever forgets, but in the sadness there is the return of that pride in himself that gives hope for his future. His final talk with the kidnapper is a extraordinary scene for both actors with the kidnapper (Tsutomu Yamazaki) positing a searing hate and discontent toward the man which Mifune counteracts through his subtle expression that suggests Gondo's confusion as well as sympathy for a man he never did any harm to. It is a spectacular end to Mifune's performance that drives this great film even through the long periods when he is not even in it. This poignant turn may in fact be my favorite performance by the legendary Toshiro Mifune.