Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 (1958-1959)
Director(s): Seijun Suzuki / Toshio Masuda / Buichi Saitô
Starring: Yôko Minamida, Hideaki Nitani, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshio Takahara, Shinsuke Ashida & Jô Shishido / Yûjirô Ishihara, Mie Kitahara, Yukiko Todoroki & Shirô Ôsaka / Akira Kobayashi, Ruriko Asaoka, Nobuo Kaneko, Sanae Nakahar & Jô Shishido
Released by: Arrow Video
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Celebrating Japan’s oldest film studio, Arrow Video proudly presents Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1, boasting three wildly memorable genre pictures from the late 1950s. From Director Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill), Voice Without a Shadow stars Yôko Minamida (House) as switchboard operator Asako who misdials a number only to hear the voice of a murderer following his depraved act. Years later, her husband’s boss Hamazaki (Jô Shishido, Youth of the Beast) is invited over sounding suspiciously close to that of the killer. Before long, Hamazaki is found dead making her dear husband a prime suspect. Joining forces with a persistent journalist, Asako vows to prove his innocence. Next up, Yûjirô Ishihara (Crazed Fruit) stars in Red Pier as a stylish young hoodlum who after offing a selected victim is sought by the authorities. While evading capture and other intended hits from his own organization, the delinquent youth unexpectedly falls for his victims sister. Finally, Akira Kobayashi (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) headlines The Rambling Guitarist as a wandering musician who falls in the company of a powerful mobster and is conflicted when ordered to evict an offshore fishery.
Based on Seicho Matsumoto’s short story, Voice Without a Shadow begins with a suspenseful turn of events as an attentive switchboard operator makes the fatal mistake of dialing the wrong number. Serving as the unfortunate listener to a murderer’s bragging, Asako's (Minamida) voice selecting ability proves unsuccessful in obtaining a suspect. After several detached years, Asarco’s marriage to her husband (Toshio Takahara, Pigs and Battleships) is steadily improving after Kotani gains employment with noted blackmailer Hamazaki (Shishido) who Asako strongly believes is the murdering culprit from years past. Unapologetically extorting money from others through strong-arming or gambling, Hamazaki’s bad habits catch up to him after being mysteriously murdered. Marked as the likely offender of his bosses brutal killing, Kotani’s life is in jeopardy as he pleads his innocence. Morphing into a journalistic investigation with a determined reporter guiding the narrative, Voice Without a Shadow is a rubik’s cube of danger and deceit as the truth behind Hamazaki’s murder is explored. Occasionally complicated with a finale composed of over-explanations, Voice Without a Shadow remains an intriguing combination of mystery and thriller that takes bold narrative steps.
A modernization of Julien Duvivier’s popular thriller, Red Pier thrives on other rebel youth pictures of the era with teen superstar Yûjirô Ishihara headlining as yakuza youth “Lefty” Jiro. Cocky and sharply dressed, Jiro oversees the “accidental” killing of his assigned target before taking shelter in the city of Kobe. Suspected of the crime, Detective Noro (Shirô Ôsaka, Tokyo Story) relentlessly trails the teen while forming an unusually sympathetic relationship with him. Upon falling in love with Keiko (Mie Kitahara, I Am Waiting), the well-educated sister to Jiro’s fallen victim, the smooth criminal finds his world crumbling when close friends are killed and his own organization are intent on ridding him as well. Booming with personality and killer instinct, Ishihara impresses in the role as an abandoned youth who has thrived on the streets of gang warfare. Although littered with thrilling sequences of trigger happy thugs, Red Pier largely stands out due to Jiro and Keiko’s romantic subplot, elevating the film to one with true emotions invested. Beautifully photographed by Shinsaku Himeda (Vengeance is Mine), Red Pier’s tale of rebellious youth shines with its stylistic noir touches juxtaposed with its love story of two contrasting spirits. Concluding with a somewhat heavy-handed message warning youths of the dangers of crime, Red Pier is a well-crafted exploration of criminalized youth.
In the first installment of what would become an enduring nine part saga, The Rambling Guitarist centers on Taki (Kobayashi), a wandering musician with a concealed past, entering the town of Hakodate. After handling himself well in a bar brawl, albeit with unfocused fight choreography, the drifter catches the attention of mob boss Akitsu (Nobuo Kaneko, Ikiru) who offers him a position. Reluctantly accepting, Taki grows uncomfortable after being ordered to evict Akitsu’s sister and brother-in-law to construct an amusement center for tourists. Donned in a leather jacket and musically talented in several areas, Taki unsurprisingly gains the attraction of his employer’s beautiful daughter Okuni (Ruriko Asaoka, Machibuse) allowing them to open up to each other given their unique ties to a powerful mobster. Undoubtedly inspired by American westerns, The Rambling Guitarist is a rapidly paced oeuvre with Kobayashi’s introverted character handling himself fearlessly when his deceitful employer no longer desires his services. Appearing as Taki’s revolving enemy/ally, Jô Shishido (Gate of Flesh) delivers an entertainingly sinister performance that wavers from nearly shooting Taki dead to just as quickly saving his life to repay a favor. While hand-to-hand combat is not nearly as coordinated as other productions of its ilk, The Rambling Guitarist is an exceptional feature that bears eastern and western influences for a solid stranger comes to town, beat’em up opus.
Transferred from their original film elements, Arrow Video presents all three films with 1080p transfers, sporting 2.35:1 aspect ratios. With its first two features containing various levels of flakes and occasional splice marks, the monochrome photography is filmically preserved with striking detail and exceptionally inky black levels retained. Meanwhile, serving as the sole colored feature of the collection, The Rambling Guitarist was granted additional clean-up that greatly benefits the viewing experience. Skin tones are lively and natural while the film’s opening mountain vista is an inspiring sight. In addition, colors found in bar room stained glass windows and bright green pool tables pop admirably with black levels equally pleasing. With only mild age related causes of debris present, all three films shine remarkably in high-definition. Equipped with LPCM 1.0 Mono mixes, the Japanese dialogue in each film is perfectly audible while gunshots and other dynamic sound effects make their marks as aggressively as possible. Furthermore, newly translated, optional English subtitles are also provided for all films. Special features include, Diamond Guy: Yujiro Ishihara (15:24) and Diamond Guy: Hideaki Nitani (10:21) with Japanese Cinema Expert Jasper Sharp waxing intellectual on the famed Nikkatsu action stars of yesteryear. Also included are Trailers for Voice Without a Shadow (3:08), Red Pier (3:22), The Rambling Guitarist (3:18) and Vol. 2 Preview Trailers (11:46) for Tokyo Mighty Guy, Danger Paws and Murder Unincorporated. Furthermore, Galleries for each feature (amounting to 92 stills), a 39-page booklet with enthralling essays from Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes and Mark Schilling are accompanied with a Reversible Cover Art and two standard definition DVD discs.
Continuing their preservation of Japanese cinema, Arrow Video’s Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 collection is an impressive trio of gangster infested, shoot’em ups all worthy of investigation. Excellently transferred to high-definition for their American Blu-ray debuts, scholarly supplements further underscore Nikkatsu’s thriving output during this era. An exciting trove of Japanese content with future installments planned, Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 serves as an excellent crash course into the famed studios’ golden years.
Available January 26th from Arrow Video in a limited 3,000 unit release, Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.