That said, curator Imogen Smith has done a good job of covering a wider range of Japanese noir than might have been the case in the hands of others; one notable example of this in the "Japanese Noir" series is the inclusion of ZERO FOCUS, Yoshitoro Nomura's 1961 "women's noir" that cements the director's symbiosis with Japanese crime novelist Seicho Matsumoto. A twisty tale with flashbacks that pile up at an escalating pace, with more than a passing nod to RASHOMON, ZERO FOCUS features a female protagonist who turns "girl detective" in order to solve the disappearance of her handsome but mysteriously troubled husband...to whom she has been married for only one week!
Attuned to crime novel source material for noir around the world, novelist and critic Jake Hinkson focuses on Matsumoto, but doesn't quite zero in on the best comparison for the prolific crime writer. That would be our old friend Georges Simenon. Both men were attuned to female psychology in a way that transcended their male counterparts; ZERO FOCUS also benefits from the presence of prolific screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, whose career began when he wrote the script for RASHOMON.
Three layers in the class system of Japan as it existed in the early 60s are captured in a film that slowly veers away from mystery to character study, but with a shocking twist at the end of the final flashback that ties together the thriller and the sociological/psychological threads within the film. Each of the three actresses (Yoshiko Kuga, Hizuru Takachiho, Ineko Arima) capture the weight of the class system on the means of conformity that was applied to these women, and the collision of these elements in the film's denouement is virtuoso work from Hashimoto and Nomura.
Interestingly enough, all three of these actresses are still with us in 2021, all closing in on their ninetieth birthdays.
It was surprising that Smith did not even mention ZERO FOCUS in her Criterion interview, apparently preferring to emphasize the flashier crime films in the series. In an age of #metoo and a resurgence of feminist critiques of society, a film like ZERO FOCUS helps sharpen our historical understanding of these issues. Even if she is not quite ready to push it forward for her audience, Smith still deserves a kudo or two for getting ZERO FOCUS included in the "Japanese Noir" series. Those of you who subscribe to the Criterion Channel should make sure to watch it while it is still available...