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July 19, 2005

The Castle of Sand

Suna no Utsuwa
Yoshitaro Nomura - 1974
Panorama Entertainment Region 0 DVD

Once again, taking a chance on a film and film director I wasn't familiar with paid off. I noticed The Castle of Sand listed with Nicheflix. The DVD is from a Korean company that has several Japanese classics made available under the grouping "One Hundred Year of Japanese Film". It wasn't until I saw this film and did a little research that I found that The Castle of Sand was one of the top critical and commercial successes in Japan at the time of its release.

The main narrative is a mystery. An unidentified man is found murdered. Two tenacious detectives try to make sense out of two clues, the regional dialect that was overheard from the victim, and a name spoken. Nomura introduces clues indirectly. People and events that first seem to have no relation to the story are explained later. Even when the viewer knows who the murderer is, the motivation is kept until near the end.

The Castle of Sand is the English language title. The film is also known as The Last Symphony. Either title works. The first title is more symbolic of the characters. Like sand castles, public image and false stories easily fall apart. Nomura has many long shots of people dwarfed by nature. Just as the connections between characters seem distant, the story takes place in several remote beach and mountain areas of Japan, far from the density of Tokyo. The visual message of the film is that people may try to fight against nature in its many forms, but nature will always win. The alternate title of The Last Symphony refers to the symphony composed by one of the characters. The symphony, if acclaimed, will be a stepping stone for the composer's future. The inspiration for the symphony lies in the composer's past. The symphony written for the film is unfortunately less than inspired. Titled Destiny for Piano and Orchestra, it sounds more like the overture destined for a Universal melodrama starring Lana Turner.

The film won the prestigious Kinema Jumpo award for Best Screenplay of 1975. It should be noted that the screenplay was co-written by Shinobu Hashimoto and Yoji Yamada. Hashimoto, who also produced this film, is probably best known for writing several of Akira Kurosawa's classic films from the Fifties. Yamada is still actively writing. His best known recent credit is Twilight Samurai. Tetsuro Tamba, the persevering detective, is still active into his eighties. A smaller part is played by Chishu Ryu, the father in several Ozu films. Nomura, who died last April, was a second generation director. After seeing this film, I am looking forward to seeing his newer films that are available on DVD and hope that his earlier work will be available soon.

Posted by peter at July 19, 2005 04:15 PM