Nikkatsu is the oldest film studio in Japan. In the 50's, they inaugurated a "star system" to recruit top notch talent to star in wild genre motion pictures. This collection from Arrow Films celebrates those "Diamond Guys" with these three films - Seijun Suzuki's Voice Without a Shadow, Toshio Masuda's Red Pier, and Buichi Saito's The Rambling Guitarist. While the packaging for Arrow's Nikkatsu Diamond Guys, Vol. 1 isn't quite as comprehensive as in some of the other collections, the combining of these three high quality films and a number of extras for each film still make it easily worth your while.
Hideaki Nitani (Tokyo Drifter, Massacre Gun) stars in Voice Without a Shadow. In the film, Asako is a former telephone operator who once heard the voice of a murder suspect and the memory continues to haunt her. Years later, her husband invites his boss, Hamazaki, over for dinner and Asako believes it to sound familiar to that of the murder suspect. Before she can investigate any further, Hamazaki is found dead and her husband becomes the prime suspect.
Voice WIthout a Shadow has a strong noir feeling to it, perhaps a reflection of the film's 1958 release and its parallel to Hollywood's filmmaking style at the time. The story is told largely through the voice of Ishikawa (Nitani), as a newspaper reporter. Nitani was one of the studio's Diamond Guys and he adds a style and presence to the film that helps raise it above mediocrity. The cast overall is quite solid and the film itself is always interesting if not always plausible.
Red Pier stars Yujiro Ishihara (Crazed Fruit), a 50's subculture icon, as Jiro the Lefty, a killer with a natural talent. Jiro arrives in Kobe only to witness a man dying in a crane accident, a crane accident that ends up being a murder cover-up. Jiro finds himself being tailed by a relentless cop. Red Pier is, in all likelihood, the weakest of the three films, another Hollywood-styled film that weaves together noir, gangster and romance into a flick that never really quite gels. Ishihara himself is compelling here and easily the best thing about the film, though the film itself is convoluted and really fizzles out toward the end.
Saito's The Rambling Guitarist is an interesting, though not entirely successful film starring Akira Kobayashi as Shinji Taki, a wandering street musician who lands in the town of Hakodate and gets into a scrap with a couple of drunken sailors before pretty much laying waste to everyone in the bar. It just so happens that Akitsu, a local "businessman," is present and impressed by Taki's scrappy fighting and tries to recruit him to work for him. Of course, rambling men like to ramble and Shinji declines until Akitsu's daughter, Yuki, comes around and proves to be more than Shinji can resist.
Of course, nothing goes quite as planned. Shinji begins to question his decision when tasked with collecting a debt from Akitsu's sister, a task that makes Shinji question why someone would betray their family in such a way. When George, a gangster from the Taguchi family, arrives on the scene and recognizes Shinji it's apparent that Shinji's life is in danger.
How it's all resolved? Well, you really need to see it.
Independently, I can't say I'd buy any of these three films. Together, they make for an intriguing collection from a unique and entertaining era in Japanese cinema. Given the fact that the films are from the 1950's, one can't quite expect audio perfection even in this upgraded presentation. It's certainly serviceable, but you'll unquestionably notice that these are older productions. The extras are interesting, especially an extended piece with Jasper Sharp that is informative and entertaining.
Nikkatsu Diamond Guys, Vol. 1 isn't my favorite Arrow collection but, if I'm being honest, I don't fancy myself a fan of these types of films. So, I'm not the target audience. For fans of this genre, this should be a winner.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic