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Noirvember 2018, Episode 25: The Castle of Sand (1974)

The Castle of Sand (1974)

Directed by Yoshitarō Nomura

Produced by Shinobu Hashimoto, Yoshihara Mishima, Masayuki Sato

Written by Seicho Matsumoto (based on his novel), Yoshitaro Nomura, Shinobu Hashimoto, Yoji Yamada

Cinematography by Takashi Kawamata

Music by Mitsuaki Kanno, Kosuke Sugano

Distributed by Shochiku

(2:23) New to me - FilmStruck

Based on the popular 1961 novel by Seicho Matsumoto, The Castle of Sand is a police procedural involving two Tokyo police detectives seeking to solve the brutal murder of an old man in a train yard. The only clues involve snatches of a conversation overhead by witnesses involving the word “Kameda” (the meaning of which no one seems to know) and a man in a bloodied white shirt running from the scene of the crime.


Veteran detective Eitaro Imanishi (Tetsuro Tamba, left) and his young partner Hiroshi Yoshimura (Kensaku Morita, right) painstakingly work the case hitting brick wall after brick wall. The police procedural aspect of the film is impeccable, almost like watching a documentary unfold. In fact the only other film I can think of that comes close is Fred Zinnemann’s The Day of the Jackal (1973), and I believe The Castle of Sand is even more detailed.

Things move slowly, but the film is never boring. During this amazing examination of the case, we learn so much about the determination of these two detectives, the seasoned Imanishi, who never gives up and writes poetry to better focus, and the young Yoshimura, who hasn’t yet seen enough of the world. This case will change them both.

The story takes us through several different settings and regions of Japan, all of which may contain small elements that could bring the detectives closer to the truth. Nomura often shows one or both of the detectives (as well as others) walking across fields, through countrysides, or down train tracks, then pulling back to show the enormity of the landscape and the smallness of these characters in the midst of their surroundings. The task seems insurmountable.

The way director Nomura delivers the denouement is stunning, beautiful, superbly constructed, and heartbreaking. It is also glorious filmmaking. Without giving too much away, we see a combination of flashback, Imanishi’s final report on the case, and a piano concerto, all brilliantly working together. Yet the film also contains more quiet elements that bring a different type of impact. Throughout the film, the script touches on both regional and individual identity, social exclusion, and the continuing problem of rebuilding lives and social structures after WWII. Although the movie is very well-known in Japan, many North American audiences have probably never heard of it. (I hadn’t until I saw a Tweet about the film from writer Vince Keegan. Many thanks, Vince!) While it has been released on Blu-ray in Japan, The Castle of Sand sorely needs a North American Blu-ray release. Shochiku gave the film a digital restoration in 2009, so a Blu-ray release seems long overdue.

If you (or someone you know) has a FilmStruck subscription, I urge you to watch it during these next few days before the streaming service ends on November 29.

(If you’re interested in learning more of Yoshitarō Nomura’s work, Jake Hinkson has written an excellent article called “Shadows Within: The Tragic Film Noir of Yoshitarō Nomura” in the newest edition of the Noir City e-Magazine, which can be yours for a $20 (or more) donation to the Film Noir Foundation. You’ll receive a year’s worth of great writing on film noir.

Next time: an MI5 officer goes undercover and reconsiders his choices in life.

Photos: DVD Beaver, Global Film Studies, Cinema of the World, Noir City/Michael Kronenberg

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