VIOLENCE AT NOON (hakuchu no torima)

(director: Nagisa Oshima; screenwriters: from a novel by Takeshi Tamura/Taijun Takeda; cinematographer: Akira Takada; editor: Keiichi Uraoka; music: Hikaru Hayashi; cast: Hideo Kanze (Inagaki, husband of the raped woman), Ryoko Takahara (Mrs. Inagaki, Raped and Slain woman), Saeda Kawaguchi (Shino Shinozaki), Rokko Toura (Genji Hyuga), Teruko Kishi (Shino’s grandmother), Taiji Tonoyama (School Principal), Hosei Komatsu (Shino’s father), Akiko Koyama (Matsuko Koura, wife of Eisuke, teacher), Hideko Kawaguchi (Matsuko’s mother), Kei Sato (Eisuke Oyamada), Mutsuhiro Toura (Shino’s Father), Fumio Watanabe (Inspector Haraguchi); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Masayuki Nakajima; Kino Videos; 1966-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

“It’s a seminal but disturbing film of contemporary Japanese cinema.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Outspoken Japanese New Wave filmmaker Nagisa Oshima (“In the Realm of the Senses”/”Dear Summer Sister”) tells the story of a brutal real-life rapist and murderer, Eisuke Oyamada (Kei Sato), but uses the opportunity to analyze the failures of the postwar period in Japan as regards to a lost idealism and decay in morals more so than to elicit an exciting manhunt or analyze the madman. On the human side, it’s more a strangely drawn out victim study of failed love, repression and a guilt trip. The idiosyncratic story turns on the reactions of two women the vicious drifter knew from the days he met them in a collective commune in the village of Shinshu, a part of the country where he was born and raised. One is his protective high school teacher (he was her pupil) wife Matsuko Koura (Akiko Koyama) and the other is the youthful beauty Shino (Saeda Kawaguchi), the woman he raped after saving her life. Why the two women shield the criminal, who has become known as the “phantom killer” after a series of brutal crimes, is because they each feel a sense of perverse loyalty to him (one due to marriage and the other because he saved her life).

Oshima uses jump cuts (making use of over 2,000 individual shots), a time-fractured narrative and high contrast photography, as well as different kinds of camera angles to have an all-seeing camera. The black-and-white film has some stunning shots in Cinemascope that contain studied imagery and give the film a uniquely Japanese look and sensibility. It’s a seminal but disturbing film of contemporary Japanese cinema.

The film opens as Eisuke sneaks into a wealthy residence in Kobe and surprises the 20-year-old maid Shino, who hasn’t seen him for a year since their encounter at the collective farm. Eisuke ties and bounds her and she becomes unconscious, afraid of being raped again by him. But Eisuke’s attention turns to the home owner, Mrs. Inagaki’s (Ryoko Takahara), whom he rapes and kills. The police question the unharmed Shino; she’s the only living witness of the serial killer known as the “phantom killer,” but she’s not cooperative. Through flashbacks we learn that at the collective farm Genji Hyuga (Rokko Toura) was Shino’s lover, but she refused to marry him. On election day, Genji was distraught that she rejected him and even though he easily won office as village leader he decided to commit suicide and begged her to join him. When she did, Eisuke observed from the distance and saved her life. After raping her, she rejected his love and he then raped the school teacher who married him despite his faults because she was in love with him.

When finally caught in Tokyo after committing 35 crimes Eisuke blames Shino, his first victim, for rejecting him as the reason he went on this rampage. Shino’s rejection of Genji also destroyed his will to live, and at the end she contemplates suicide saying she’s so much like the killer.

Oshima makes the most of trying to understand how such a wretched psychopath could live in modern Japan and fit in until sometime goes off in his head that makes him commit these senseless and violent crimes. The result is an intelligent but bewildering study of a sexual predator and his victims, that I’m afraid was more disturbing than enlightening.