The Films (4.5/5, 4/5, 3/5)
VOICE WITHOUT A SHADOW
A switchboard operator overhears the distinctive laughter of a killer and years later, is terrorized by the same man while a reporter desperately tries to save her. Legendary director Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill, Tokyo Drifter) is at the top of his game here with this fine noir. The charismatic Jô Shishido is in the cast and that fact alone should make this worth seeking out for Japanese film fans. The black and white cinematography is mouthwatering and the rest of the cast is excellent. This film alone is worth owning this set for.
The melodrama runs high in this crime drama starring youth icon Yûjirô Ishihara as "Lefty" Jiro, a young yakuza trying to make his way in the world. His skill with a gun, propensity for breaking into song, and rep for being a ladies' man are legendary in the neighborhood. But his luck is about to run out when he gets mixed up in a murder and a cover-up perpetuated by his own gang. This film is a lot of fun and it's easy to see who Ishihara was so popular. The story here is intriguing and much like the first film on this set, the dynamic black and white camerawork will blow your mind.
THE RAMBLING GUITARIST
Akira Kobayashi plays Shinji -the titular rambling guitarist- who wanders into town and reluctantly finds work with the local yakuza. He immediately gets on the bad side of one of his cohorts (Jô Shishido making a second appearance in this boxset) who knows a secret about his past that could get him killed. This film kind of lost me during its middle third. A lull in the action happens and I didn’t give a damn about what was going on. The ending makes up for this misstep in pacing and I think the film is still worth checking out for the masterful color photography.
All three films really pack a punch in 2.35:1 widescreen as, no surprise, Arrow Video does it again. There’s a minuscule amount of print damage but nothing interruptive. Everything else is damn near perfect, especially with the black and white films (Voice without a Shadow and Red Pier) which are stunning to behold. Sound is mono for all three films but the mix is so well done you’ll have nothing to complain about and the subtitles are clear and easy to read. The colors look great in The Rambling Guitarist, the only color film in this set, especially the blue of the sky and the ocean which are featured prominently in the outdoor scenes.
Author Jasper Sharp lays down some serious info in the interviews on the disc that will keep you busy for a while. He goes into the careers of Ishihara, Hideaki Nitani, and the history of Nikkatsu studios. The set comes with a lengthy booklet with essays on the subject of Nikkatsu (by Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes, and Mark Schilling) and the artwork of the cover and interior is amazing, as is so often the case with Arrow Video.
Bravo to Arrow Video for bringing more obscure Japanese cinema into our drab Western lives. Between this and the Stray Cat Rock set, I’m in heaven! Even though I thought The Rambling Guitarist was the weakest of the three, I’m still glad I watched it. This set is a grand snapshot of a bygone era of filmmaking and is absolutely essential to Japanese cinema enthusiasts.