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THE CASTLE OF SAND (1974)

(SUNA NO UTSUWA)

Director: Yoshitaro Nomura

Screenplay: Shinobu Hashimoto
(Based on the novel by Seicho Matsumoto)

Cast: Tetsuro Tamba, Go Kato, Kensaku Morita, Yoko Shimada, Karin Yamauchi, Ken Ogata, Yoshi Kato...

MPAA Classification: Unrated
DVD release date: August, 2006
Running Length: Color, 143 minutes
Japanese language with English subtitles

Genre: Police procedural/murder mystery

Reviewed by Cherie Jung

Detective Imanishi (Tetsuro Tamba) and Detective Yoshimura (Kensaku Morita) are assigned a difficult murder case with few real clues. The body of a stranger was found beaten to death. No one has reported the victim missing, and no one seems to know who he was or where he came from. A waitress remembers serving him while he visited with another man at one of her tables. The only clues she can provide the detectives are her memory of the man's accent, a rural dialect of Japanese not spoken by most of the city's population, and that he spoke the word "Kameda." The detectives wonder if "Kameda" is a person's name or a place. All of their efforts seem to lead to dead ends until the clues are looked at from a slightly different perspective.

What begins as a simple murder mystery becomes a haunting tale of misfortune and sadness as the detectives try to unravel the identity of the victim and his killer.

Much of the film is set in rural Japan, rather than the city where the crime occured. In the coutryside, the pace is much slower than in the city and at times, it seems as if the case may never be solved.

As the detectives work to discover the killer's identity, the story develops through flashbacks that show what lead that person to the point where killing seemed the only option available.

For those not familiar with Japanese films and crime stories, in particular, viewers may find the beginning of the film slower than they expect. Two things to remember. The film is not just about a crime, it's about the life of the killer and his victim and it's a film about how the Japanese detectives are very methodical in their work.

I first saw this film in 1976. One thing that remained in my mind for all these years was how the young detective managed to find some missing evidence. I won't elaborate because I don't want to spoil the scene for you.

Even after 30 years, I found this film fascinating to watch. I will no doubt view it again. Fans who haven't seen this movie since it played in theaters back in the 1970s will be glad to know it's finally available on DVD.

I think the film will appeal to viewers who enjoy a slower pace to mysteries and crime drama. There is not a lot of action or violence. Nothing really seen. The investigation is, as I said, done in a methodical manner, based on basic investigative techniques. Nothing fancy or flashy. There are no screeching car chases. No shoot outs in a back alley. Yet the case is a fascinating one, sure to linger in the viewer's mind long after the film has ended.

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