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]


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