Written by: Michael Den Boer on January 27th, 2016
Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1958 (Voice Without a Shadow / Red Pier), Japan, 1959 (The Rambling Guitarist)
Directors: Seijun Suzuki (Voice Without a Shadow), Toshio Masuda (Red Pier), Takeichi Saitô (The Rambling Guitarist)
Writers: Ryuta Akimoto, Seichô Matsumoto, Susumu Saji (Voice Without a Shadow), Ichirô Ikeda, Toshio Masuda (Red Pier), Gan Yamazaki (The Rambling Guitarist)
Cast: Hideaki Nitani, Yôko Minamida, Jô Shishido, Nobuo Kaneko (Voice Without a Shadow), Yûjirô Ishihara, Mie Kitahara, Masumi Okada, Sanae Nakahara, Shirô Ôsaka (Red Pier), Akira Kobayashi, Ruriko Asaoka, Sanae Nakahara, Misako Watanabe, Nobuo Kaneko, Kyôji Aoyama, Jô Shishido (The Rambling Guitarist)
BluRay released: January 25th, 2016 (UK) / January 26th, 2016 (USA)
Approximate running times: 92 minutes (Voice Without a Shadow), 99 minutes (Red Pier), 78 minutes (The Rambling Guitarist)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (All Films)
Rating: 15 (UK), NR (USA)
Sound: LPCM Mono Japanese (All Films)
Subtitles: English (All Films)
BluRay Release: Arrow Video USA
Region Coding: Region A,B / Region 1,2 NTSC
Retail Price: $49.95 (USA) / £24.99 (UK)
Voice Without a Shadow: A woman is reminded of a traumatic event from her past. When she recognizes the voice of one of her husband’s colleagues. Three years before while working as a phone operator she accidently heard the voice of a murder, who has yet been brought to justice.
Voice Without a Shadow was directed by Seijun Suzuki a versatile and prolific filmmaker who is most remembered for directing Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill. The that latter of these two films lead to him being fired from Nikkatsu. Key collaborators on Voice Without a Shadow include, screenwriter Seichô Matsumoto (The Castle of Sand, The Demon), cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka (Branded to Kill, Massacre Gun) and composer Hikaru Hayashi (Onibaba, Blind Beast).
Content wise, there are two clear influences on this film, Alfred Hitchcock and Film Noir. The film’s narrative is a meticulously constructed whodunit and there are even a few red herrings thrown in for good measure. As mentioned before there is a clear Hitchcock vibe going on and nowhere is this more evident than the film’s opening setup.
Another strength of this film is how it pulls away from the tension filled opening for a few scenes and lets the characters establish who they are. From there is does not take to long for the film to hit its stride and this occurs when the voice from the past moments arrives. Needless to say this film does a superb job building and maintaining tension.
When it comes to the film’s visuals this film does not disappoint. Seijun Suzuki perfectly infuses the Film Noir look with his own unique sensibilities as a filmmaker. With the strongest moments visually revolve around the woman who is the key to discovering the killers’ identity. More specifically the moments where her fragile state of mind is now in question.
Performance wise the entire cast are very good in their respective roles. With this film’s standout performance coming from Yôko Minamida (Hausu) in the role of this film’s protagonist. She delivers an exceptional performances that perfectly captures the state of mind of her character. Another performance of note is Jô Shishido (Gate of Flesh, Retaliation) doing what he does best, portraying a menacing character.
Red Pier was co-written and directed by Toshio Masuda whose other notable films include, Rusty Knife, Gangster VIP, Shadow Hunters and Shadow Hunters II: Echo of Destiny. Key collaborators on Red Pier include, screenwriter Ichirô Ikeda (Youth of the Beast) and cinematographer Shinsaku Himeda (Never Give Up, Vengeance is Mine).
Though this film starts off with a mysterious murder, the end result is far removed from the thriller genre. The bulk of the film is spent following Jiro as he tries to get closer to a young woman named Keiko. She also happens to be the sister of the man who died in the opening moments of the film. Other prominent characters include a detective named Noro that watches his every movement and a secondary love interest for Jiro is a clingy night club dancer named Mami.
Content wise, the first two acts play out like a melodrama and it is not until the film’s final act that things start to get interesting. It is during this act where the gangster side of the Jiro character comes into play. Though they had let him be for the bulk of the film. Those responsible for killing Kieko’s brother don’t want to take a chance on Jiro turning on them. So they hire a hitman to take him out.
It is like this film is comprised of two distinctly different halves. A more lighthearted side that primary takes place during the daytime and a more sinister alter ego that comes out during the nighttime scenes. The first of these two halves focuses more on getting to known the characters, while the other half is more concerned about the characters past and their inability to free themselves from said past. Of course it is always the darker side of humanity that proves to be the most compelling to watch.
From a production standpoint there not that many areas where this film does not excel. With the one area that things could have been improved being this film’s narrative. And nowhere is this more glaring than in regards to this film’s pacing. Which tends to drag because of these lulls in the narrative. With that being said, whatever this film lacks when it comes to the narrative it more than makes up in area like its visuals which are filled with a tremendous amount of style. With this film’s most striking moment visually being saved for its finale.
Performance wise the cast are all great in their respective roles. With this film’s best performance coming from Yûjirô Ishihara (Alone on the Pacific) in the role of Jiro. Another performance of note is Mie Kitahara. They had both previously acted together in the film Crazed Fruit.
The Rambling Guitarist was directed by Takeichi Saitô (Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril). Key collaborators on The Rambling Guitarist include, screenwriter Gan Yamazaki (Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards, Gappa the Triphibian Monsters) and cinematographer Kuratarô Takamura (Tattooed Life, Hellish Love).
The main premise for this film has an air of familiarity to it. A stranger arrives in town and finds himself caught between two rivals’. And though this premise would be used in several samurai and countless Spaghetti Westerns. The premise with where the aforementioned similarities end, since the tone and level of violence for this film pales when compared to those films. With that being said, though this film outwardly plays itself off a Japanese gangster film. It is not to hard to see the influence the western genre had on his film.
The look of the film at times is reminiscent of a Hollywood musical and the leather jacket wearing protagonist could pass off as Elvis Presley’s doppelganger. Other avenues the plot explores include a love story and redemption for something that happened in the protagonists past.
From a production standpoint not only does this film feature rock solid visuals. It does a remarkable job when it comes to its use of color. With the nightclub scenes some of the best in regards to use of the colors. Pacing is never an issues as this film moves along at a breakneck momentum.
Performance wise the cast are all more than adequate in their respective roles. Surprisingly this film’s standout performance comes from Jô Shishido (A Colt Is My Passport) in the role of a hit-man named Killer Joji. And though his role is not much more than a secondary role. He dominates very scene his is in. Another performance of note is Akira Kobayashi (Kanto Wanderer) in the role of Taki “The Rambling Guitarist”.
Voice Without a Shadow, Red Pier and The Rambling Guitarist come on a 50 GB dual layer (46.2 GB) BluRay. All three films are presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. The transfers for these three films were all sourced from original film preservation elements. Voice Without a Shadow and Red Pier were both shot in black & white and The Rambling Guitarist was shot in color. All three film’s sources are in great shape and there are issues with DNR or compression. Black and contrast levels look consistently strong. Also the image always looks sharp and shadow detail remains strong throughout.
Each film comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in Japanese and removable English subtitles are available for each film. All three audio mixes sound, clean, clear and balanced.
Extras for this release include, image galleries for Voice Without a Shadow, Red Pier and The Rambling Guitarist, trailers for Voice Without a Shadow, Red Pier, The Rambling Guitarist and a preview trailer for Diamond Guys Volume 2: Tokyo Mighty Guy / Danger Paws / Murder Unincorporated.
Other extras include a two interviews with Jasper Sharp titled ‘Introduction to the Diamond Guys’. The first interview is titled ‘Diamond Guy: Yujiro Ishihara’ (15 minutes 24 seconds) and the second interview titled ‘Diamond Guy: Hideaki Nitani’ (10 minutes 21 seconds).
Topics discussed in these two interviews include, how in the 1950’s there were five major studios’ in Japan, the origin’s and history of Nikkastu studio’s and career retrospectives for Diamond Guy’s Yujiro Ishihara and Hideaki Nitani.
Rounding out the extras is a reversible cover art and forty-page booklet with cast & crew information for each film, an essay titled ‘Voice Beyond the Shadow’ written by Stuart Galbraith IV, an essay titled ‘Tough Guy, Nice Girl, Hard Choice: Red Pier’ written by Mark Schilling, an essay titled ‘North by Northwest: The Timeless Adventures of a Rambling Guitarist’ written by Tom Mes and information about the transfers. Also included with this release are two DVD’s that have the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release. Overall Diamond Guys Volume 1 in another excellent release from Arrow Video.
Note: This is a limited edition release, the UK is limited to 3000 units and the US is limited to 3000 units.