Friday, May 25, 2018

The Sleep of the Beast



Tangling-Up Toward Inevitability



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Arrow Blu-ray of the film.)

===

The title The Sleep of the Beast [Kemono no nemuri, 1960] resonates in two ways distinct from one another depending on whether you read the title of Suzuki's 1963 breakthrough in English — Youth of the Beast — or in its original Japanese — Yajū no seishun. The titles don't have much in common with one another at first glance — the movies themselves don't, full-stop — but the internal emancipation of fueled rage and concentrated vengeance mark both pictures, and indeed all of Suzuki's films. The sleight of hand here is the difference between kemono (beast) and yajū (beast). According to the online Jisho dictionary, kemono connotes "beast, brute, animal," with a throw to "the Number of the Beast." Yajū suggests "wild beast, wild animal." Perhaps a difference in degree? Of savagery? The Sleep of the Beast vs. Youth of the Savage Beast? The latter's the wilder picture with the wilder motivations...

The Sleep of the Beast in short involves a businessman father Junpei Ueki (Shunsuke Ashida) who, embittered by his company years without a respectful compensation, takes the leap risk of smuggling heroin out of Hong Kong on a cruise-liner back to Japan on the eve of his retirement. After disappearing from his family for a spell after docking, he pops back into their lives brushing his absence off as the requirements of more business. His daughter Keiko (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) and, more astutely, her newspaperman love-interest Shōtarō Kasai (Hiroyuki Nagato) smell some flood aloft in the situation. So the suspicions, and the policier aspect of the plot, kick into place, and Shōtarō sticks his bloodhound compulsion onto the trail, not for glory, and maybe not even for the sake of love.

This will shift now into pure plot synopsis. Why? Because the tangling of the threads define the essence of The Sleep of the Beast. This is early Suzuki working off a script which just goes on and on; he finds a little bit to really flash in the few moments where he can get some air. But look at this:

After Junpei's re-emergence, he takes a job as a ship's chandler for the Kōei Trading Company. His network associate Komatsu (Kōjirō Kusanagi) bears a scar on his right hand that Shōtarō had warned Keiko about once, given his leads on the crime trail, and she witnesses it herself when she and her mother are visiting their father at his new place of employment, Kōei, so that the family might go out to lunch together. At the lunch, Junpei spots his boss sitting at a nearby table, and Junpei takes the requisite bow, with one Reverend Nagamine (Tsutomo Shimamoto) joining the boss: the latter is the head of the "Sun God Cult." He's a good cult guy, Junpei remonstrates. Following their lunch he takes the family to see a house he's interested in buying there in Yokohama which will eliminate his commute from Tokyo to get to Kōei.

Heroin-thief Satō (played by I don't know whom) collapses in the Hama Hall jazz bar. The newspaper people say they're calling it a sleeping pill OD, but the autopsy comes back saying he's been dosed with something called Luminal, a powder that dissolves in liquid...

Dead Satō's wife is a member of the Sun God Cult. She has a link with Wong (player zero_sub1). Also dead. Both he and Satō are wound up in this heroin deal of Junpei's on the way back from Hong Kong... when all the junk was stolen from his bag. A woman there at the sect's main HQ also identifies one Maki (player zero_sub2) who works in a Yokohama dry-cleaners. Shōtarō tracks him down — the launderers is a drug-front. Maki escapes out the back with the drugs and Shōtarō's in pursuit; the former visits Hama Hall. He passes off the drugs to Komatsu. Shōtarō corners Maki outside the club, and Maki attacks him with a razor concealed inside his shirt-cuff. The crook escapes, but a pair of cops on the same trail choke Shōtarō out figuring he was Maki's associate in the pell-mell hubbub; they were monitoring the heroin deal.

Shōtarō explains to Keiko that her father brought the heroin from Hong Kong. "Wild beasts sleep in the hearts of all of us," he reflects. "Sometimes the beast awakens."

This brings us to what I see as the key dilemma of the film:

Keiko implores: "Why couldn't you have just left [my father] alone??"

Shōtarō responds: "I don't know.... Because I'm a newspaper reporter."

She asks him to keep all this dirt to himself till she says he can release it. Shōtarō in typical journalist/Japanese-movie fashion counters: "I'm a reporter! I can't ignore a scoop!"

Reverend Nagamine gets a call from the Kōei boss informing him the cops caught Maki. They suggest sending Komatsu (BTW: the two policemen who were trailing him after he got the drugs have wound up dead) to the sect's private island off Kure till the heat cools down.

Maki, now in custody, uses the toilet at the police barracks to take the opportunity to slash his carotid with that same hidden razor and commit suicide.

Keiko confronts her father Junpei with all his crimes. "No-one forced me," he responds. "All those years of hard work were in vain." When the drugs were stolen from him on the ship back from Hong Kong, he offered his full retirement payment as compensation to the Kōei buyers — but that 3 million yen added up to barely one-tenth of the value of the stolen drugs. Satō and Wong were the thieves, and once they were dead, and the drugs came back, Junpei had little choice but to join the Kōei syndicate; he was afraid he'd be killed if he didn't.

Now, there's some bar-hostess named Hiroko (player y_sub1) who was friends with an earlier hostess Akemi (player y_sub2) from Hama Hall, but the former's moved on to the Blue Moon Bar. This all gets a little hazy for me. Shōtarō tracks down Hiroko, gets shit-faced with her at the Blue Moon, then let's himself get taken to her pad. She drops Luminal in his drink. Hours pass and she admits she drugged and killed Satō and Wong in the aftermath of their steal. Problem for her is Shōtarō fake-drank his whiskey while pouring it on his left breast, all while recording her confession via a pen-microphone that the whole time radio'ed-out to his associate in the hallway with a reel-to-reel. Shōtarō calls Junpei and plays it back for him.

Junpei visits the Sun God temple and alters the propane set-up so there's no flame, but still gas output. After an argument with his Kōei associates he flicks a lighter and blows the place sky-high. It's like the end of Underworld Beauty [Ankokukgai no bijo, 1958]. Finally Junpei blasts himself with pistol to the heart.

This isn't Suzuki at his best, it's early in his game and he's struggling with the assigned material, but he uses an expressionist trick twice when he superimposes a narrator zoomed-out over the play-out of some flashback material. Just enough gunpowder and drug-powder to land home the Nikkatsu essentials.

===


===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star



More Bastards: An Afterschool Story



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Arrow Blu-ray of the film.)

===

Stories of Bastards [or Stories of Badboys]: Even Under a Bad Star [Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo, 1965] is a redux of Suzuki's earlier The Bastard / The Badboy [Akutarō, 1963], set here in the Shōwa period. The Stories of Bastards title plays with the notion that this is another entry in an imaginary series devised by Suzuki; time in secondary schools is static as ever. Ken Yamauchi reincarnates as the character of Jūkichi, coming up once more against an organized disciplinary troupe made up of the upperclassmen of the school itself, who are bent on breaking the individuality of Jūkichi and all: as in the previous film he'll break them first, and more fiercely. The film opens with the enactment of a fascist recital gathered round a bonfire: the national conflagration that is yet to ignite. Suzuki chooses to provide a level of definition to the story with the Japanese low-comedy form of dunce-men by turns hollering, screaming, or flailing; and with teen boys in black school uniforms getting aroused by anatomy textbook images while clustered in their homosocial clique at a friend's house with no locked doors. The book of reference in The Bastard was Strindberg's The Red Room; here it's Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Everyone's unwitting.

Stories of Bastards has memorable scenes arranged like the blockchain. It's free-form, but somehow constricted... A typical Suzuki film, but somehow an oddity... Irritating but not fatally so, a mixture of high contrast and low. A mishmash of family, its surrogates, and lovers tossed together by proximity. Its episodes like spikes on an uni, unified with the central body bisected, as though to split the difference for the non-connoisseurs — in any case, something way stranger than compromised repast.


===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Best of 2017 List



TOP 10 FILMS OF 2017

Held off on this. I haven't seen everything I wanted to that premiered in 2017 — the new ARP, the new Garrel, the new Wiseman, the new Villeneuve, other things I have blasphemously less interest in seeing. If I get more links this year I'll do better.

10.
Radiohead: “I Promise"
by Michał Marczak

9.
Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone
by Rachel Wolther and Alex H. Fischer, with Sunita Mani, Tallie Medel, and Eleanore Pienta

8.
Landline
by Gillian Robespierre

7.
Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
by Rian Johnson

6.
Good Time
by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie

5.
Win It All
by Joe Swanberg

4.
Farpões baldios [Barbs Wastelands]
by Marta Mateus

3.
I Love You, Daddy
by Louis C.K.

2.
Phantom Thread
by Paul Thomas Anderson

1.
Twin Peaks: Season 3 / The Return
by David Lynch

===

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Underworld Beauty



"Do Diamonds Really Burn?"



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Home Vision Entertainment DVD of the film.)

===

Over and over in Suzuki we'll see a bar or café with a backroom full of gangsters, but Underworld Beauty [Ankokugai no bijo, 1958] is the earliest example I can remember. This movie is ahead farther in its demimonde portrayals and youth-culture reckoning (equating the two at least in regard to material deemed ripe for cinema) than the French New Wave or Samuel Fuller, though the latter had staked a starting-point for the trajectory even as early as the mid-'50s.

A guy named Miyamoto (Michitarō Mizushima) gets out of jail, he was serving time over something to do with three chunky diamonds. (Mizushima is the best actor besides Jō Shishido in all the early Suzuki films.) His character visits his accomplice Mihara (Tōru Abe) who runs an oden stand with his sister Akiko (Mari Shiraki); Mihara took the fall that landed Miyamoto in prison, and now operates with a gimp leg. He was never a bad guy, and all these years has kept his head down in the business, even as Akiko flails like a dipso-nymph in capris, not unappealing. History repeats itself, Mihara swallows the diamonds, stashed all this time, in a deal led by Miyamoto that goes wrong, and takes another fall, off the side of a building in suicide — as much out of honor as to end his crippled existence. Akiko's lover Arita (Shinsuke Ashida) cuts the diamonds from Mihara's shrouded gullet during the vigil he holds with the body on behalf of himself and the sister, who has gone off to cope by getting shitfaced with an American sailor. When she comes back to the hospital, she cracks open Mihara's coffin and pours whiskey all over the corpse's face.

Eventually she'll come into the diamonds and tamp them down into the clay of a pre-fired mannequin's tit.

The final ten minutes find Akiko and Miyamoto ("ojisan") locked in the competitors' basement, the bad guys shooting up boiler tanks and the protagonists forced to shovel coal out a shaft to free up an escape-route. Akiko emerges onto the street; Miyamoto gets gunned down bare-backed by a detective after his offing of big-boss Ōyane (actor who?). The ending sees Miyamoto recovering in a hospital bed with the implication that he and Akiko may get something hot started yet before his time to serve. Somehow, she, and this movie, constitute an Underworld Beauty.


===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Bastard


New-Kid-in-Town Monogatari



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Arrow Blu-ray as included in the boxset Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years: Vol. 1: Seijun Rising: The Youth Movies.)

===

The Taishō period. Akutarō [The Bastard, maybe also The Badboy, I don't know where to come down definitively in this translation conflict, 1963] was the nickname of Tōgo Konno (Ken Yamauchi) at his former secondary-school in Kobe, where he attended as the son of a widower with upper-middle-class means before the boy's mother pulled him out to enroll him in small-town Toyooka. The Public Morals Unit, comprised of his upper-classmen, don't take kindly to strangers in dandy hakama...

It's easy to see how, in comparison to Suzuki's contemporaneous works, The Bastard might be considered, and too happily so by dilettante critics, as a prestige picture in the sense of Ford's The Informer [1935] or Naruse's Floating Clouds [Ukigumo, 1955] — both films I love, but they're well-rounded in romantic-vision and certain production values and non-angular pacings on the way to denouements (also see Mizoguchi's Sanshō-dayū [Sanshō the Steward, 1954]) that institutional awards-services might recognize them over not only the termite entries of the respective œuvres but the more stylistically flamboyant popular pictures that still draw attention in retrospectives and reissues today. That's fine. Life could be worse than experiencing masterpieces like The Informer, Floating Clouds, Sanshō-dayū, or maybe not a masterpiece but stark cinema, The Bastard. Why don't I say this is not a Suzuki masterpiece? I don't know — why haven't I said any of the films that precede it are? Some are better than this; many of those I still haven't seen (have you looked at Suzuki's filmography?); this movie's just different from what came before, and as such, and in and of itself, it's fascinating. Blob Saget was on Seth Meyers last night and he said that his show should be eventually called Fullest House when his ashes rest in an urn on a sill.

If you haven't yet seen The Bastard know that the biggest conceit involves August Strindberg's 1879 novel The Red Room [Röda rummet]. I've never read it, and didn't even know except in a few forgotten whisperings that Strindberg wrote novels — I figure this is something like how most people into Dostoevsky haven't read Poor Folk [Bednye lyudi, 1846] — but I paste this excerpt off Wikipedia from the American critic John Albert Macy in 1922: "[Strindberg] writes of [his characters' — two young critics'] unconscious inhumanity and blindness in a way that reveals his own clearness of vision and fundamental humanity. The laughter of a somber humorist has in it a tenderness unknown to merry natures." Make of that what you will.

I like the irony in the film title quite a more than a bit: with regard to Strindberg in his time of play, and with Suzuki's naming the picture The Bastard, or The Badboy, as both represent only ironical side-offerings to the straight denomination. Tōgo's a good-seed by any standard; in typical Japanese social critique of the era, it's truly the oppressors surrounding him that will drive him to pull daggers, abscond in spit — both tough attitudes. He's another drifter-savior in the Suzuki work, here of course in the guise of the transfer-student, fighting a de facto student-gestapo — the extreme manifestation in cinema of the dreams of the scenarists and Suzuki's own perceptions. The picture ends like something in a Satyajit Ray film, something from his Apu Trilogy.

In the essay that comes with the 60-page book in this Arrow boxset, writer Jasper Sharp quotes something to the effect by Shigehiko Hasumi that here everything came together for Suzuki for the first time: the actors, assistant-directors, production-designer, the cinematographer: — they made a prestige picture. As Variety would say: All tech specs primo. But who cares except season-passing 90-year-olds in the faintest of rushes to that last 90-min of distracted distraction, padded heeled, unaware of imminent pulmonary terror?



===

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Friday, March 16, 2018

Late-Teen Yakuza


Rue Teens!



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Arrow Blu-ray as included in the boxset Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years: Vol. 1: Seijun Rising: The Youth Movies.)

===

Late-Teen Yakuza [High-teen yakuza, 1962 — aka Teenage Yakuza] unfolds upon images of construction vehicles clearing out rocks and soil dumped over ridges. For, this movie is jazz, goddammit, not your ersatz pre-Beatle rock-'n-roll: the benefitting kids want only Art Farmer, Louis Armstrong, and Don Elliott!, can't you see!, like any other Anglo brand hung on a peg! "Robin Coffee Brought to You by Chimoto," the franchise café the mother of schoolboy Jirō (Tamio Kawachi) is opening up in tandem with the expansion of this extra-Tokyo growth in small-business economic rise-of-promise: a playset for shrewd Suzuki four years before Godard's more cosmologically cogent focus on the Paris banlieues in 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her [2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle, 1966]. Sprinkle their faces with sea-salt or not — the shots are all diurnal! Aside from the brilliant framings and sets, a terribly ugly film... the bastard bleaching sunlight... it exposes the cowards and conformists that Jirō defends against and the extortionist delinquents he ATTACKS! in fending off this multi-block plot for which the owners thought they were signing up in solace to hunker over in perpetuity on the heels of the war...

Fictional teens cry and hiccup for the power to loaf! They might extort protection money from the conformist-cowards who took out business-loans, but Jirō comes round to offer real protection kicking the would-be-yakuzas' asses all over the curbs, arm-blocking every ridiculous haymaker-right-hook before he socks them impermanently to the dust.

Two beautiful details, that most present-day directors are incapable of equaling in their films:

(1) A cop manning a one-man-barracks, whose wife and toddler are visiting during Jirō and his buddy Yoshio's (Toshio Sugiyama) questioning. After the cop dismisses the two to go home, maybe half-an-hour later in the film, the next time we return to him (because films and scenarios work at the power of twice, not three-times), he's dandling his toddler solo near the plants before the keisatsu bungalow. And:

(2) Kazuko (Midori Tashiro) speeds into her father's udon/soba shop to make a plea, and like a pied-piper, the most popular girl in town because maybe the shittiest, all her friends follow her and clog up the windows in the background to gawk.

Late-Teen Yakuza is a beautiful and short (1 hour 12 minute) movie, and I only wish it might have ended differently: with Yoshio having already been crippled in the leg, and Jirō having suffered a similar maiming from a blade in the same spot — my wish, my wish... is that when they reconcile and pedal bicycles together during the final shot ————— both might only operate the pedals with their left feet and their right legs dangling numb off the frames...



===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass



Variety Show



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Arrow Blu-ray as included in the boxset Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years: Vol. 1: Seijun Rising: The Youth Movies.)

===

It takes Shintarō (Kōji Wada), an economics student on sabbatical passing through a mountain village, to get the Imai Kinyō Traveling Magic Show's mojo back on track. The drifter-savior, if only there ultimately to inspire Misako Imai (Mayumi Shimizu) to follow her dream of resigning from the troupe and moving to Tokyo. A dream she'll abandon at the film's end! Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass [Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze, 1961 — somewhere along the line it got aka'd The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain] abounds with frustrated dreams, the funniest being the yakuza prohibited from killing his mark, and troupe leader Kinyō himself (Shin Morikawa) botching his projected showstopper during practice and drowning in a submerged trunk. Escape for Tokyo, escape à la Houdini, even in the case of the yakuza's mark escape through the honor of death — in the end, there's no escape at all.

A neglected treasure in Suzuki's career, Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass examines the underlying absurdity of entertaining audiences with cheap spectacle, whether that be a third-rate magic-and-striptease production, or the barking at fairground passers-by to take a chance on discounted ladies' bloomers. Like the Imai ensemble itself, Youthful Wind, and Suzuki, are caught in a transitional time bound up with tricks and strippers, mercenary promoters and gangster associates. It was this filmmaker's charge to satisfy his audience, that of the Japanese cinema of '61.


===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Voice Without a Shadow



She Has the Ability to Distinguish Between 300 Voices



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Arrow Blu-ray as included in the collection Nikkatsu Diamond Guys: Volume 1.)

===

"Born in Tokyo, it was assumed Suzuki would take over his father's bicycle bell-making business...."
—from Stuart Galbraith IV's essay "Voices Behind the Shadow" [2016]

I haven't come across many chroniclers of the early years of Suzuki's career who will admit that the respective films are not just entertaining genre programmers but indeed stand apart from other, albeit excellent, Nikkatsu works of the era — example: Toshio Masuda's Red Pier [Akai hatoba, 1958], also included in the Arrow set. Take Voice Without a Shadow [Kage naki koe, 1958]: it's got all mod cons: bicycle bells, dog whistles...

Asako Takahashi-Kotani works as a switchboard operator at the Maichō Shinbun. (Yôko Minamida plays Asako, whose character does not, as far as we might surmise via common practice of the time, officially carry a hyphenate-surname; she's referred to alternately with both surnames by Ishikawa, a newspaper journalist played by Diamond Guy Hideaki Nitani who knew her in earlier days.) When Ishikawa requests she connect him from the newsroom to an outside line, she plugs into the wrong number, belonging to a pawnshop where a crime in-progress can be overheard in the background as one of the perpetrators answers the phone and taunts the operator, two noh masks gazing down upon her from a calendar posted on the wall. Three years and one noh mask later, she'll recognize the crook's voice at last, now that it's emitting again from a telephone receiver: it's her husband's shifty mahjongg pal Hamazaki (Jō Shishido), who's become a fixture at the game nights her spouse has been strong-armed into hosting and pissing away his and Asako's paltry savings upon.

The latter two-thirds of the film deal with Hamazaki's murder committed shortly after Asako's epiphany, and Ishikawa's procedural gumshoeing to discover the guilty party. The clues hinge upon a specific variety of coal-dust found near the Kotani residence that's found smudged on Hamazaki's suit and within his autopsied lungs. It's later revealed that these are planted specimens: the dust in his lungs got wafted down his windpipe by way of a handfan brandished directly before his strangulated face by devil-vixen Mari (Midori Ishizuka) who, earlier the same night of Hamazaki's murder, will sit on a parlor floor and playact the choking of a pet dog before tearing the feathers off a mangy fowl.

Anyway, in the end everything's tied up in a bow, and Ishikawa gets the killer.

I'd draw attention to Suzuki's inspired technique and impeccable staging. The production design is first-rate, specifically the cramped confines of the Kotani household and the labyrinth of Mari's bungalow. There's the ill-boding flashback sequence tipped off by the framing of each shot with a canted angle, and the three-shot distorted in a shattered mirror. Lastly, a prime example of Suzuki's endeavor of keeping everything interesting through camera placement and blocking: e.g., Asako erupts into tears while engaging with Ishikawa at a café and bursts out onto the sidewalk: cut to exterior, camera on the door, Ishikawa rushes out, pauses. Pedestrians pass. It's raining...


===

More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

===