A young woman accidentally hears the voice of a killer over the phone. She tells the police but they never catch the man and she's left to live her life knowing a killer is on the loose, whose face she doesn't know, who might consider her a threat. This is a perfectly good setup for a suspense film but it's a concept that only fuels the first half of 1958's Voice without a Shadow (影なき声). One of Seijun Suzuki's earlier films, it has the kind of fast pace that suggests rapid changes during a quick production. This leads to a feeling of rootlessness and fractured point of view but Suzuki's persistent inventiveness is more than enough to captivate the viewer.
The film begins with Asako (Yoko Minamida) working as a telephone operator for a newspaper. When attempting to call a university professor she accidentally dials the number of a pawn shop where the phone is answered by one of the yakuza knocking the place over. The voice jokingly tells her that she hasn't reached a university but a crematory.
A lot is said about Asako's sensitive hearing, her job has conditioned her to distinctly recognise at least 300 voices. Time passes and she gets married to Kotani (Toshio Takahara) and we find her tormented by the sounds of Mahjong tiles because her husband starts bringing guys home from work every single night to play. Among the guys who come home with Kotani is a very young Joe Shishido, the actor with the peculiar cheek implants who'd become one of Nikkatsu's most recognisable stars.
He seems to pay an inordinate amount of attention to Asako, almost leering at her. Suzuki places us in Asako's point of view with close-ups of her ear and shots of her listening carefully on the other side of the wall while the men play. And of course there's the sound of those tiles played up on the soundtrack. The film also features a few hallucinations--in one scene, Asako seems to run into Shishido's character in every room, sitting cool and calm, playing with a cigarette lighter. Typical of Suzuki, particularly much later on, he wastes no time having anyone explain that these are hallucinations or dreams, he simply shows them as being physically impossible. This helps bring the viewer in to Asako's disorientation.
And then the film takes a sharp left turn and it becomes a different film entirely. The protagonist is Ishikawa (Hideaki Nitani) who worked for the newspaper where Asako was a phone operator. He's been in love with her since before she was married. Now her husband has been implicated in a murder and he has to unravel the truth. We meet the yakuza among whom, surprisingly, is a woman, Mari (Midori Ishizuka) a model as well as a gangster. We're introduced to her fantastic bare legs while she cackles over a comic book she's reading.
This second half of the film is mostly a procedural murder mystery and while Asako is still an important character she slips out of the point of view role. The movie still has very dreamlike moments but it's no longer her dream. It never quite gains the traction of some of Suzuki's best films but it's still a fascinating, delirious ride. Voice without a Shadow is available on Amazon Prime.
Twitter Sonnet #1238
The knots contrive a kind of corse of silk.
The extra limbs would strike the walls about.
For room the space prefers to thin the milk.
So creatures plan or scurry round the route.
The ink recalls belated pens to bed.
In sheets of paper bugs were warm to sleep.
What's written last in books was firstly said.
Or soda rumbled up from darkest deep.
A summer pumpkin softly rolls along.
Selections sink behind the squash at night.
At eight appeared an angel's mint sarong.
The moon illumes a face to ravish sight.
A sound but rarely casts a shadow shape.
A language flies when writ upon a cape.