I’ll be honest, at first, I wasn’t interested in reviewing the Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol 1 collection when the opportunity first came up, but after I received it in the mail and read it over, my excitement to check it out rose. That’s because the collection from Arrow Video is wonderfully done, with some fantastic packaging, a nice little collector’s booklet, and three films that any fan of Japanese crime flicks will love. It turns out, I actually ended up enjoying the complete collection and would easily recommend it, so let’s see if this is something you would be interested in by reading on…
DISCS: 3 (1 Blu-ray, 2 DVD)
RUN-TIME: 92/99/78 min
ASPECT RATIO: 2.35:1
AUDIO: Uncompressed Mono Audio
PRODUCTION DATE: 1958, 1959
RELEASE DATE: Jan 26, 2016
Nikkatsu, the oldest film studio in Japan, inaugurated a star system in the late 1950s, finding talent and contracting to their Diamond Line for a series of wild genre pictures. This collection celebrates these “Diamond Guys” with three classic films from directors Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill), Toshio Masuda (Rusty Knife) and Buichi Saito (Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril).
An old hand at tough guy action roles, Hideaki Nitani (Tokyo Drifter, Massacre Gun) stars in Suzuki’s Voice Without a Shadow. Asako, a former telephone operator once heard the voice of a murder suspect which has continued to haunt her. Years later her husband invites his boss, Hamazaki, over for dinner and she realises his voice is suspiciously like that of the killer. Before she can investigate further, Hamazaki is found dead and her husband becomes the prime suspect…
Next, 50s subculture icon Yujiro Ishihara (Crazed Fruit) stars in Masuda’s Red Pier as “Jiro the Lefty”, a killer with a natural talent. Shortly after arriving in Kobe, he witnesses a man die in a crane accident which turns out to be a cover-up for a murder. Jiro soon finds himself on the run, tailed by a determined cop…
Finally, in Saito’s The Rambling Guitarist, mega star Akira Koabyashi (Battles Without Honour and Humanity) stars as wandering street musician Shinji, who falls in with mob boss Akitsu after saving one of his henchmen in a bar fight. Tasked by Akitsu with evicting an offshore fishery, Shinji finds himself in the middle of a very unusual domestic dispute…
Presented on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time in the West, these thrilling genre films feature Nikkatsu’s leading talent at their best.
The first movie to check out on the Blu-ray disc is Voice Without a Shadow, arguably the best movie of the three. This flick I enjoyed the most, as it had a pretty interesting murder mystery running throughout, keeping you guessing until the very end. Asako works as a telephone operator and one evening she happens to overhear a murderer on the phone. She remembers his voice and even three years later when she hears the voice again, she knows it’s the same guy, who also happens to be friends with her husband. Before you know it, the murderer ends up dead and Asako’s husband is the main suspect, but with the help of a journalist, Ishikawa, Asako works on finding out exactly what happened that night and who exactly did the evil deed.
The next movie is titled Red Pier, and is about a man, “Jiro the Lefty,” who has come home only to witness a murder right in front of his eyes. Jiro isn’t your average guy and is, in fact, part of a crime family. He falls in love with a local woman, who just might actually convince him to leave his life of crime, but when a hit is put out on him, it becomes even harder to leave, let alone stay alive or out of jail. Red Pier was mainly a love story, with a bit of murder thrown in the mix. I enjoyed the flick, but I could’ve done with a bit more action.
The last movie to watch is The Rambling Guitarist, the weakest of the three. Shinji is a wandering guitarist, who happens to run into a crime family and gets wrapped up in helping them take care of business. Meanwhile, someone from the guitarists past shows up and starts causing trouble. Throw in a love interest and you got yourself a standard love film with a bit of crime. Maybe if I watched this first I would have enjoyed it better, but after seeing the other, much better flicks, this one rates the lowest for me, as not much happens throughout a short runtime of 78 minutes. Having said that, this movie is the one with the most Western influences in it, so if you happen to enjoy Westerns, you’ll probably enjoy this one as well.
At first, when you open your Blu-ray case, you’re going to think that the movies are on separate discs, but that is not so. The Blu-ray versions are all on one disc while the other two discs in the case are DVDs. To me, it seems like a waste of space and money, but for people who still want to watch them on DVD, you get the option.
Each movie is looking acceptable, but with noticeable damage on each print. Scene cuts usually have damage lines showing up, along with dirt and debris; some scenes also appear soft. The worst of the three I found was Red Pier and the best was the coloured The Rambling Guitarist;. Voice Without a Shadow falls somewhere in the middle. These are all older films, so the damage is acceptable and, in my opinion, it takes nothing away from your viewing enjoyment. The audio had no problems.
The Special Features included are two interviews with Jasper Sharp on Diamond Guys Hideaki Nitani and Yujiro Ishihara. The first interview runs roughly 10 minutes while the second runs around 15 minutes. They are both informative, and given the age of the films, it was probably hard to find enough people still alive to talk about them, so what you’re given is a plus. Rounding everything out is trailers for each film, a Diamond Guys Vol 2 preview and finally some Galleries for each flick.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
- 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
For any fan of Japanese Cinema, you’re going to love this wonderful Blu-ray release from Arrow Video. The three films included aren’t perfect, but they do provide something for everyone, be it a love story, crime story or murder mystery. If you have even the slightest bit of interest in checking it out, you’ll be quite pleased with this Blu-ray.