The Shape of Night (1964) [Radiance Films Limited Edition] 

Out on Blu-ray on April 30, 2024, from Radiance Films 

When a beautiful young woman falls in love with a Yakuza, she soon finds out that he and his organization expect her to sell herself to bring in money. 

Written by Toshidi Gondo, based on the novel by Kyoko Ohta, and directed by Noboru Nakamura, The Shape of Night is a lovely, yet sad look into the actions of despair and necessity, the way some get roped into places they were not meant to be, and how it affects them and those around them. The film is careful to build a universe where nothing is truly black or white, no one is truly good or bad, where intentions and reality differ greatly, and where a seemingly small decision can change everything. The film creates characters one wants to watch, the story is touching while showing a world few have seen from the inside. The writing is strong, and the direction brings it to the screen just right. 

The cast here is solid with Miyuki Kuwano leading in the part of Yoshie Nomoto, the young lady who finds her way into a love story with a Yakuza and consequently in a position where she finds herself involved in prostitution in a way that is not entirely of her own doing. Her work here as this character sells the entire film, she keeps the attention throughout, she makes the viewer care about her situation, about her, about the character. She’s central to everything and makes the most of everything. This is a performance that works perfectly in the story, one that even elevates an already strong story and film. Working alongside her as her boyfriend Eiji Kitami, Mikijirô Hira manages to create the right mix of charming and slimy, he makes his character into something that is hard to pinpoint. He’s evil, he’s bad, but perhaps he is just about as stuck in this world as Yoshie is, if not more. His performance here sells that perhaps he’s not entirely evil, perhaps there is a sadness here, maybe even some hope in his relationship with Yoshie. There is something to both of these characters that only these performers could bring into the film.  

These performances are framed and filmed with cinematography by Tôichirô Narushima who carefully creates the images seen here, making them lovely, soft, yet hard at times. Giving the film a style that is very specific to the story, and it fits perfectly, giving the characters a visual world to live in, using lighting and framing to help bring the emotions and performances forth. The editing by Keiichi Uraoka works with these images, giving them the right amount of time to make an impression, moving at just the exact moment, leading from one moment to the other in a way that lets the viewer watch everything and feel with the characters. 

The Shape of Night is a strong drama with solid performances, a style of its own, and a way to approach difficult subjects that has just the right amount of softness towards its characters while not being afraid to really show things. 

The release here from Radiance Films is one that looks stunning in terms of the physical release. The art is lovely and fitting, the choice image for the cover is perfect, the sadness of Yoshie is visible from the box itself. The contents here are solid with a great transfer that allows the viewer to really enjoy the film. The newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow on the reversible sleeve is strong (but that images of Yoshie, the photo itself, is hard to beat). On the disc, the high-definition transfer looks great, the audio sounds just right, and the new translation used for the subtitles is easy to follow. The extras here are decent with the best of the bunch being the visual essay by Tom Mes about Shochiku Studios in the 1960s and the artistic changes that happened within. The single disc release here is lovely and brings a great film to modern audiences who may not have had the chance to see it before.