Friday, January 15, 2016

Voice Without a Shadow (1958)


Director: Seijun Suzuki
Notable Cast: Yoko Minamida, Hideaki Nitani, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshio Takahara, Shinsuke Ashida, Jo Shishido

One of my cinema resolutions for the year is to explore classic cult directors that I may have given a shot to, but didn’t really dive into their filmography for various reasons. One of these directors is Seijun Suzuki. I had seen Branded to Kill a few years ago and was somewhat off put by its outrageous style and off beat elements so I skirted my way around Suzuki’s other films. With my new resolution however, it’s time to revisit some of his other films and explore why he has garnered such a cult audience. Much to my excitement, the first volume of Nikkatsu Diamond Guys from Arrow Video features an early film by Suzuki and I was eager to jump in. Voice Without a Shadow is nowhere near as eclectic as what I’ve read about the wild director and the style is very much in tone with the more traditional thrillers that Nikkatsu was working on in the 50s. While seeing a Suzuki film that’s toned down is certainly a welcome relief, it’s also a film that wholly plays it too safe at times.

When a switchboard operator (Yoko Minamida) for the telephone company overhears a killer after slaughtering a ton of people at a pawn shop, she becomes a loose end for some gangsters. Her husband then begins working for a questionable businessman (Jo Shishido) and she suspects him to be the killer. However, this businessman winds up dead and her husband is the prime suspect so she must rely on a journalist (Hideaki Nitani) to help her prove his innocence.

Voice Without a Shadow starts off in a very Hitchcockian manner as our semi-powerless female lead is thrown into a complex murder mystery. The film really shines at this point, powered by a handful of great performances including a very memorable small role as a charming and scary businessman for Jo Shishido and there is a lot of great almost noir like elements in the first half. There is thought narration for the wife and some interesting marriage elements that are underlining the actual “is he or isn’t he the killer” plotting that keeps things feeling deeper than it actually is. When the film shifts gears in the second half to having a journalist as the main protagonist and it adheres to a more classic murder mystery, the film actually loses a bit of steam. The mystery itself is still a lot of fun as it throws a ton of red herrings at the audience and ends on a slick final twist, but comparing it to the slightly off beat opening makes it feel too formulaic and safe.

The angle, the set up. It just seeps mystery.
Perhaps the most unique aspect about Voice Without a Shadow is its rather straightforward approach to the entire thing. Suzuki, as far as my knowledge base goes, was known for doing odd things with his films (enough so that Nikkatsu fired him for making “unwatchable films” at one point) and he plays it fairly safe here. It’s a film that’s decently early in his career, but his style only comes through in small pieces – like a flash back sequence told only with dutch angles and a running thread where Suzuki shoots a few pieces from outside of a house using windows as panels into what’s happening on the inside. It’s enough to keep the film visually appealing, but I was expecting a few more outrageous concepts to be thrown into the film and those are definitely missing. It's not a terrible thing overall, but one that needs to be addressed for fans going into the film.

Voice Without a Shadow is not a hugely entertaining thriller from Nikkatsu and it’s easy to see why it was placed into a package with two other films by Arrow Video. The new high definition transfer is slick and brings out a lot of the small details that Suzuki is known for crafting his films with and it makes this set an automatic must buy for Japanese cinema enthusiasts. The film is enjoyable enough with its murder mystery elements and strong performances that fans of Suzuki will want to see one of his harder to find early films for themselves. While it’s not nearly as dynamic as I expected, it’s still a film worthy of recommendation.


  • Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (3000 copies)
  • High Definition digital transfers of all three films, from original film elements by Nikkatsu Corporation
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • Specially recorded video discussions with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp on Diamond Guys Hideaki Nitani and Yujiro Ishihara
  • Original trailers for all three films and trailer preview for Diamond Guys Vol. 2
  • Extensive promotional image galleries for all three films
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Booklet featuring new essays on all three films and director profiles by Stuart Galbraith, Tom Mes and Mark Schilling

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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