Violence at Noon, 1966

A haggard, expressionless drifter named Eisuke (Kei Sato) encounters the object of his obsession working as a maid at a private residence. Her name is Shino (Saeda Kawaguchi), a former coworker from a failed collective farm in the province whose life he once saved. As Eisuke proceeds to terrorize Shino to the point of unconsciousness, he becomes aware of Mrs. Inagaki’s (Ryoko Takahara) presence in the house, and violates and kills her, sparing Shino’s life. Soon, Eisuke’s criminal pattern of sexual assaults and murders emerges, as Shino becomes a reluctant witness and accomplice to Eisuke’s increasing acts of violence. Shino appears to cooperate with the police on creating a composite description of the assailant, but secretly, withholds her crucial knowledge of his identity. Resigned to complicity for Eisuke’s crimes by not revealing their mutual acquaintance, Shino, in turn, writes letters to Eisuke’s trusting and dutiful wife, a schoolteacher named Jinbo (Narumi Kayashima), in order to expose his true nature, and induce her into turning Eisuke over to the police. Soon, the complex circumstances behind Eisuke’s rescue of Shino at the collective farm is revisited, revealing the dichotomous, dual image of Eisuke as both criminal and savior in the eyes of Shino that forms an inextricable bond between victim and attacker. Shino insinuates herself into the investigative process by following Inspector Haraguchi (Fumio Watanabe) as he pursues clues and interviews victims, attempting to understand Eisuke’s destructive impulses in the unspoken, self-reproaching belief that, as his first victim, she is the underlying cause for his violence.

Nagisa Oshima presents a taut, intelligent, and visually spellbinding portrait of repression, victimization, and guilt in Violence at Noon. Profoundly influenced by Alain Resnais’ themes of altered time and haunted memory, Oshima creates a seamless visual transition of three disparate chronological events to reflect Jinbo’s guilt-ridden conscience as she returns to the collective farm: a flashback sequence involving the community leaders connects to the present day with a dream sequence of Genji (Matsuhiro Toura) at a cemetery, and continues with a reluctant reunion with her fugitive husband.

Shot in high contrast and using frequent jump cuts (more than 2000, mostly stationary shots, according to Max Tessier’s essay, Oshima Nagisa, or the Battered Energy of Desire in Reframing Japanese Cinema), isolated framing, changing character perspective, and elliptical narrative, Oshima reflects the mental polarity and deviant behavior of an amoral predator: the photographic police chronicle of the attack on Mrs. ‘M’; the frenetic jump cuts during Shino’s pursuit of Jinbo during a school field trip; the constant panning of the camera during Shino and Jinbo’s final conversation on a train. Eisuke’s entrance into the Inagaki home further alludes to his psychological fissure as he is presented in a series of fragmented and increasingly claustrophobic close-ups that culminates with a shot of his eye, then cuts to a montage of Shino’s awkward (and decidedly unseductive) body as she washes the laundry, emphasizing the disconnection of Eisuke’s body from his aberrant mind. Yet inevitably, despite Jinbo’s continued devotion to her abusive husband and Shino’s attempts to psychologically deconstruct the mind of her attacker, Eisuke’s fatal compulsion remains senseless, irredeemable, self-destructive, and ultimately, tragic.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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