[Film Review] The Castle of Sand (1974)

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English Title: The Castle of Sand
Original Title: Suna no utsuwa
Year: 1974
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Yoshitarô Nomura
Shinobu Hashimoto
Yôji Yamada
Yoshitarô Nomura
based on the novel by Seichô Matsumoto
Music: Yasushi Akutagawa, Mitsuaki Kanno
Cinematography: Takashi Kawamata
Tetsurô Tanba
Gô Katô
Kensaku Morita
Yôko Shimado
Yoshi Katô
Kazuhide Haruta
Karin Yamaguchi
Ken Ogata
Chishû Ryû
Taiji Tonoyama
Seiji Matsuyama
Kinzô Shin
Shin Saburi
Kiyoshi Atsumi
Rating: 6.9/10

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Prolific Japanese filmmaker Yoshitarô Nomura’s THE CASTLE OF SAND is the first screen adaptation of Seichô Matsumoto’s popular novel INSPECTOR IMANISHI INVESTIGATES, it starts out as a diligent police procedural investigating a mysterious murder of an elderly man Miki in Tokyo by two detectives, Imanish (a phlegmatic and conscientious Tanba) and his younger, hot-blooded colleague Yoshimura (Morita).

Nomura pulls no punch in detailing the circumstantial process of tracking down probable leads out of niggardly clues: the dead man’s provincial accent and a word which can be either construed as a name or a place. It requires much legwork and fast-train commute, but often leads to a cul-de-sac, only when the victim’s stepson comes to Tokyo to identify the body and with the help from a phonetic expert, the investigation finally veers onto the right track, but another conundrum ensues, Miki was a retired police officer in a remote rural town, and his reputation is impeccably saintly, no one can figure out any reason why someone wants to rub him out. As usual, the devil is in the details, the linchpin of the is boiled down to an abrupt decision which make Miki alter his original shrine-gallivanting route to visit Tokyo, a city he has no connections with.

By the time the film reaches this stage, Nomura has officially shunted this whodunit to a whydunit, by introducing a young pianist Eiryo Waga (Gô Katô), whose star is on the rise but indubitably is the culprit as it turns out that Reiko (Shimada), his paramour, is the one who helps him discard his blood-stained shirt. Further compounding the situation is that Reiko is pregnant with his child and decides to raise the baby on her own against Eiryo’s insistence on abortion, which clearly will hinder Eiryo’s propitious union with Sachiko (Yamaguchi), the daughter of the Ex-Finance Minister (Saburi). But this subplot stops short with an offhand miscarriage.

So the remaining task is to piece together the linkage between Eiryo and Miki, and the film’s strength is hinged on whether the motive is cogent enough to fall in with the story. A lyrical flashback, frequentely accentuated by DP Kawamata’s tourist-luring propensity for zooming-out, of Eiryo’s childhood nearly 30 years ago, whose really name is Hideo Motoura (Karuta), how his peripatetic scrounging days with his leprosy-afflicted father (Yoshi Katô) has a short confluence with a young Miki (Ogata), which predestines the future tragedy, pans out concurrently with the diegetic symphonic accompaniment which Eiryo virtuously performs on the stage with a full orchestra in front of a full-house audience, the piece is befittingly christened Destiny, which is sonorously composed by Mitsuaki Kanno.

Gô Katô dexterously contrives the crescendo with flying colors, but digressing back to the “motive” sticking point, it is hard to condone that Eiryo would cold-bloodedly resort to murder, especially to someone with only good intentions, just because he doesn’t want to acknowledge his buried past, plus the reason why he is desperate to hide it is less expounded as well, apart from the prejudice of leprosy.

Whilst Nomura flags up the indivisible blood tie and makes heavy weather of the lachrymose father-son separation, it only recoils on itself when all Eiryo refuses to commit is a belated reunion, and if we contextualize the story in its time, one may uncomfortably apprehend that the plot could be Nomura’s disguised plea to urge Japan’s post-WWII youth to forgive the militaristic past of their father’s generation, which materializes as a dangerous signal undercuts the film’s otherwise commendable artistry, history should not be forgotten, lest we are so inclined to make the same mistake ad nauseam.

referential points: Naomi Kawase’s SWEET BEAN (2015, 7.4/10); Akira Kurosawa’s HIGH AND LOW (1963, 8.5/10).

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