Violence at Noon opens with the latest crime of the so-called "High Noon Attacker." His victim, the housemaid Shino, recognizes him at first as Eisuke, a man she knew (quite intimately, we'll learn) from her village past. Eventually it dawns on her that her old acquaintance is Japan's most wanted criminal, but by then he's ready to overpower her, bind her and rape her. He then goes on to kill her employer before fleeing.
Strangely, Shino plays a double game with police investigators. While appearing to cooperate with them, she doesn't divulge her knowledge of the HNA's true identity. Instead, she starts firing off letters to Eisuke's wife Matsuko, a schoolteacher, tipping her off about hubby's criminal career. Matsuko also keeps mum, and as the women correspond, the police investigate, and Eisuke keeps on raping, we learn the history that holds the triangle together.
Oshima's film, based on a novel itself inspired by true crimes, becomes a peculiar portrait of the pathologies of communal living. Our three protagonists once lived in a model village run on communal principles. Both women were involved with Genji, an ambivalent politician who runs for office while dreaming of romantic suicide. Genji asks Matsuko to marry her and threatens to kill himself with his homemade noose if she won't. She laughs at him. He then invites Shino to die with him. Her family had threatened collective suicide during earlier hard times, but Genji had bailed them out. Though she has chores to do, Shino decides to go along and hang herself with a kind of "why not?" attitude. But while Genji hangs himself properly, Shino's branch breaks.
Above, Akiko Koyama as Matsuko; below, Saeda Kawaguchi as Shino. The rope remains the same.
Oshima seems to be saying something about the dangerous intimacy that arises in self-consciously voluntary experimental communities like the one that produced Eisuke and friends. But any philosophical or simply satirical point he meant to make is arguably undercut by his conception of Shino as a kind of passive, almost brainless femme fatale. Shino is one of the weirdest teases I've seen in cinema, because what she teases is death. She promises death but doesn't deliver, usually through no fault of her own. By the end of the film, you might be excused for thinking that she can't die -- though I should quickly add that there's no supernatural implications whatsoever involved. But she seems to sap other people's will to live, or tip their moral balance, as if she were a succubus or a vamp in the Theda Bara mode. Her family doesn't follow through on their suicide threat. She fails to hang herself at Genji's side. Her unwitting simulation of death apparently inspires Eisuke's compulsion to rape. Finally she draws Matsuko into her morbid orbit as the movie builds to a climax not of suspense, but of pathological inevitability.
The trailer was uploaded to YouTube by WorldCinemateque: