| Kurosawa seems to have been interested, if not
fascinated, by American mystery/detective fiction. This film is officially
adapted from Ed McBain's "King's Ransome", as "Yojimbo" was an uncredited
but admitted adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's "Red Harvest".
"King's Ransome" is a natural for adaptation to a Japanese setting, as it
revolves around questions as to what is proper and what is owed; what is
owed to the master by the servant and what is owed by the master to the servant,
and, beyond that, and possibly more importantly, as it dictates how one will
act on such interactions, what is owed to one's own honour and self-respect.
By naming his character "Kingo", Kurosawa both follows the original (McBain's
character's name, to accord with the title pun, is "King"), and emphasises
the almost feudal questions of honour involved in the story.
Other reviews have summarised the plot -- i'll just touch on a few points:
King/Kingo is CEO of an established family-run shoe manufacturing company;
in response to falling products, somef his Board want to import shoddy shoes
and put the company's respected name on them, in order to make a quick profit.
He sees this as wrong, both in that it is not fair to the customers who rely
on their brand-name to mean a quality shoe, and because, in the long run,
it will damage the honour (and commercial viability) of that name.
One element of the essential conflict: What does the company owe its loyal
customers? And can the company tolerate the loss of "face" inherent in such
a bait-and-switch scheme?
And then the ransome note arrives -- pay, or his twelve-year-old son dies.
If he pays the ransome, he will lose the fight on the Board of Directors,
and his company name will be damaged; but there's no choice -- this is his
only son, more important to him than anything else in the world. But, *because*
of the fight with the Directors, he already has the money needed for the
ransome on hand; of course he will pay.
Another element: Blood is more important than money.
And then McBain and Kurosawa's twist -- the son is fine; it is his long-time
playmate and age-mate, the chauffeur's son, who has been kidnapped.
The chauffeur is a long-time employee and friend. His son and Kingo's son
are devoted playmates. The chauffeur is a widower and his son is his only
He has given Kingo his loyalty for many years. And now he is suffering for
his proximity to the great man -- if not for that loyal service and his son's
closeness to Kingo's son, his son would not be in danger.
The final element: How much does Kingo owe this good man -- and in what manner;
as employer? As friend? As (however unintentionally and passively) the cause
of his trouble?
If he pays the debt he acknowledges that he owes his chauffeur and ransomes
his son, than he will lose his shoe company; his name will be publically
dishonoured by the shoddy prodcut that the company will market if he loses.
But, if he saves his company, he will save his name's honour in that regard,
and will publically not lose "face"... but he, and the chauffeur and his
own son will know that he sacrificed an innocent whom he could have saved.
Kingo is not an evil man nor a hard man; he must choose, and he must make
the correct choice aganst a constantly-shortening time limit.
An excellent adaptation of a classic police procedural novel, and a cogent
and pointed essay on honour and responsibility, subjects common in Kurosawa's
((For another of his films dealing with similar questions of honour and loyalty,