Being related to the principle's family tree and therefore taken from her adoptive parents, Izumi Saeko becomes a transfer student of the reputable Seishin Girls' Academy and starts living in its dorm. Her roommate Takatori Kei seems like a kind person to get along with, but Kei herself thinks it would be better for Saeko to not get involved with her, leaving her with the mysterious statement "I'm a witch" before she is found burned to death in a forbidden room of the dorm where another girl died the exact same way 35 years ago. From that night on fear and suspicion prevail among the students and what was regarded by the teachers as possible suicide finds its continuance in clear murders afterwards. The scarlet whisper crawling up from Saeko's forgotten inner self and her continuous sleepwalking and strange dreams make her doubt herself. Might she actually be the culprit...?
Ayatsuji Yukito certainly is a master in description and narration. His ability in making you feel atmosphere, colors, sounds, emotions etc. is simply magnificent. It almost feels like watching a movie, which particularly comes in handy in this straight homage to Dario Argento and his giallo/horror movies (he even included a direct dedication in romaji to Argento in the beginning). Even without this homage Argento's influence was already pretty obvious in Ayatsuji's yakata series, mainly due to similarities to the movies Suspiria and Inferno. The eerie atmosphere of huge mansions, the corridors that lead to something terrifying hidden beneath all the opulence and the connection of various buildings through the same architect are proof of this, as are some more unconspiciously included references like for example in the plot's tricks.
Hiiro no sasayaki draws a little less from the mansion factor but still makes perfect use of the same atmosphere and setting as in Suspiria. Ayatsuji does so by the repetitive and striking use of vivid colors and lush soundscape descriptions, reminiscent of Goblin's minimalist progressive rock compositions for Argento's movies that almost evoke a state of trance, just as Argento's use of luscious colors in his sceneries. What differs though is that while Suspiria explained pretty much nothing logically and stays on overall supernatural ground, this novel starts having exact the same mysterious and uncomfortable situation like in the movie, but then instead of diving deeper and deeper into absurdity becomes clearer with each chapter and each fact the reader gains along the development. This grants insight into pretty much all important characters' minds and backgrounds and also eventually makes this book a fairly decent whodunnit. Overall you could also say Ayatsuji combined key aspects of Suspiria and Profondo Rosso, the latter even being named Suspiria 2 due to the former being that successful and popular in Japan. Deep Red, as it was called internationally, even featured what you could call a narrative trick in filmed form which could just as well been taken out of one of Ayatsuji's novels...
Furthermore you see another influence of Ayatsuji in this work. In Umezu Kazuo's stories, you always have some kind of real social problem depicted in a totally grotesque and exorbitant way which would be unimaginable in reality but the reader still feels a connection somewhere that makes that creepy world similar to ours. And this is exactly what happens in this novel as well. One of the main themes in this book is Ijime (japanese definition of bullying) and while mystery novels and horror movies with school settings are staples nowadays, when this novel was published (1988) this problem itself as well as research on it were fairly topical. Apart from that though, this is not the only similarity to the horror genre. This novel is both mystery and horror, because even when the culprit's identity is explained there still remains this chunk of unexplainable, irrational madness and absurdity that stays veiled even after the end of the book. This really works both genres' ways but I definitely recommend this as a suspense or horror novel for those interested in having their settings explored to the last bit, since this book certainly does not feature fancy tricks or inexplicable seemingly impossible crimes. This reads more like a giallo movie with its loads of lush descriptions and tense atmosphere where you can guess the culprit near the end if you did not fall for the allowedly solid red herrings.
In the end I just want to point out that this influence is not that surprising, since giallo simply means yellow, which also was the trademark color of pulp fiction magazines in Italy, which again among others featured authors like Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen or Raymond Chandler... go figure the transcultural spiral.