An adulterous industrialist finds himself in a sticky situation after accidentally killing his wife in Umetsugu Inoue’s bizarre noir Crossroad (死の十字路, Shi no Jujiro). Based on a story by Edogawa Rampo, the film like any good noir suggests that in the end you can’t outrun your fate and all transgressions must be paid for but also turns on cosmic irony and strange coincidence in the great “tapestry” of life in which everything really is connected.
Shogo Ise (an aged-up Rentaro Mikuni) is the director of a construction firm about to complete a hugely expensive dam project which requires the sinking of a village and quarry. Apparently unhappily married to a woman obsessed with Nichiren Buddhism believing it helped to cure her of a serious illness during the war, he more or less lives with his secretary/mistress Harumi (Michiyo Aratama) who has been receiving incredibly weird and definitely threatening letters from Shogo’s wife Tomoko (Hisano Yamaoka). Tomoko claims that she has received an order from the “Child of the Sun” insisting that she must exact vengeance for the “great sin” Harumi has committed. The letter seems to be the last straw for Shogo who has decided to leave his wife, despite her incredible wealth, and set up home with Harumi permanently.
Shogo hadn’t taken the threat very seriously, but sure enough Tomoko later shows up with some kind of ceremonial dagger and barges in to attack Harumi in the bath. During the struggle, Shogo accidentally kills Tomoko while trying to wrestle the knife from her. After briefly considering turning himself in, he realises that doing so will involve them all in scandal so he decides the best thing to do is dump her body in a well at the quarry which is shortly to be sunk. However, the plan soon goes awry and not least because a random man with a head injury climes into his car after he has a fender bender on a set of crossroads and later dies there leaving Shogo no choice but dump him alongside Tomoko.
Inoue casts the abandoned quarry in truly eerie light, filled with gothic winds as if Shogo were being chastised by the gods themselves. In a sense, he’s paying not only for his sexual transgression but for the breaking of a taboo. A homeless man who once lived in the village later relates that he stayed until the last day because he did not want to leave his ancestors’ land. Shogo is part of the post-war construction boom but there’s also an underlying implication that this industrialisation is harmful to the land itself, not least in constraining a natural flow with the imposition of a dam in addition to causing a displacement of the people who once lived in the village while literally drowning the ancestral spirits.
Harumi too speaks of feeling as if they’re both sinking beneath the waves, chasing a happiness to which they have no entitlement though she herself seems completely blameless save for her involvement in an extra-marital affair and strangely wholesome in comparison to the film’s otherwise sordid atmosphere. Even for a noir, Inoue’s sensibility is surprisingly sleazy for the world of 1956 and more than a little suggestive. A detective that randomly shows up, Minami (Shiro Osaka), lives with his foxy assistant and the interaction between them is constantly sexually charged while Inoue frequently returns to the backstreets of a neon city and the bars that line the streets approaching the crossroads where Shogo’s fate will align.
It could be inferred that Shogo is a man whose life was marked by the war, his marriage perhaps in haste and then regretted while his wife developed her illness and subsequent obsession with Nichiren because of its corruption. Nevertheless, he’s portrayed as a basically “good” man in a very bad situation who made some very bad choices he wasn’t in the end bad enough to carry through properly hence the amazing series of collisions that seal his fate. On the one hand, like the young couple related to the drunk man who ended up in Shogo’s car, he and Harumi are just two otherwise ordinary people who decided to chase happiness albeit through an extra-marital affair only to pay a heavy price for daring to dream of a better future. Inoue has his usual amount of fun playing with noir archetypes as men strike matches in darkened alleyways and silhouettes of mysterious men in trench coats line the walls, not to mention the gothic sense of dread in the abandoned quarry, while constantly wrong footing us only to set us on our own collision course with the vagaries of post-war morality.