DVD: Black Tight Killers / Ore ni sawaru to abunaize (1966)

May 20, 2015 | By


BlackTightKillersFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label: Image

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  August 15, 2000

Genre:  Gangster / Yakuza

Synopsis: A war photographer falls for a cute stewardess and launches his own investigation when she’s kidnapped by gold-hungry gangs.

Special Features:  Interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe (20:58).




Although best known for pioneering the pink film genre in Japanese cinema, Yasuharu Haesebe’s first feature as director is a refreshing spin on the gangster film, weaving together ideas from a series of genres, if not the James Bond films where the hero bounces between action, hot women, villains, and near-death encounters before claiming victory just as the end credits are about to roll.

Black Tight Killers doesn’t have an especially deep storyline – Akira Kobayashi plays Hondo, a globe-trotting war zone photographer who meets a pretty stewardess but becomes enmeshed in a plot to find a secret diary to a cache of gold kept hidden since WWII – but it compensates for punchy dialogue and inventive action scenes, plus a handful of less flashy scenes where Hasebe puts a fresh spin on romance, a marked contrast to his later work which, in the pink / Roman Porno genre for Nikkatsu, easily transgressed into that special category known as Wrong: patently offensive, bizarre, and outrageously provocative.

In 1966, Hasebe seemed determined to give every scene something special, and Black Tight Killers is completely different from the more serious noir style in his second film, Massacre Gun (1967), where more traditional themes of honor, family loyalty, and respect were presented in a classic B&W ‘scope ratio.

Killers is a much lighter work that’s part gangster, part Bondian escapism, filmed in a style that evokes both graphic novels and fifties MGM musicals. The sisters who make up the girl gang chasing after the stash of war gold are also expert fighters and bouncy-bouncy go-go dancers, hence the insanely brilliant main title sequence with gyrating / pulsing choreography, and a great nightmare montage where Hondo’s missing love Yoriko (Chieko Matsubara) literally tears through one pastel backdrop after another as she’s chased by the Black Tight mob.

Hasebe also treats his nighttime exterior sets like a Gene Kelly musical, with neon store names appearing larger than normal in the background, and alternating even colour grading within singular shots: when Hondo is nabbed and taken to a garage for some persuasive talking, every step seems to trigger a new pool of colour as Hasebe has cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka shift between primary and pastel colours. Even the tool rack consists of striped colours to ensure few surfaces within shots are dull or naked without any detail.

Fans of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol.1 (2003) will see several parallels, especially in the driving scenes where Hasebe places saturated coloured backdrops instead of a cyclorama or rear projection of street traffic. The cars do appear in location shots through tunnels and on highways, but the choice to create a comic book look is due to budgetary limitations, and a great sense of of style.

Kobayashi’s Bondian circumstances is accidental – much like a classic Hitchcockian hero, Hondo is an innocent man thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and like North by Northwest’s Roger Thornhill, Hondo is wanted for a murder he didn’t commit, and is chased through various elaborate locations by various factions of shady characters. (One could even suggest his name is part Bondian, part tribute to John Wayne machismo, a la 1953’s Hondo.)

Hondo isn’t as big a tail-chaser as James Bond – he’s very much in love with Yoriko – but he does ultimately, reluctantly, sleep with one of the Black Tight girls in a sequence that feels like an update of the ‘walls of Jericho’ scene in Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934): apparently in possession of just one pajama, Hondo takes the pants, the girl takes the shirt, and although the pair begin to sleep in separate beds, being a protective sort, he’s forced to share a bed when his donation of pants and blanket offer insufficient warmth to the cheeky temptress. The scene’s dialogue is especially fun, and indicative of the lightness that generally dominates the film.

However, there is a more-than-slight edge to later scenes – a chained-up Yoriko is painted white by the thugs in the garage scene, and there are not-so-fleeting glimpses of bare breasts – but the film never transgresses into wrong terrain. Black Tight Killers is part comic book / musical gangster film without musical numbers, and a romance with a sense of the ridiculous akin to the Flint films, especially in the weaponry which both Hondo and the girls use: the former carries ‘experimental’ antique bombs and canons, courtesy of his uncle, and the latter uses sharp measuring tapes and deadly 45 rpm singles.

The film’s finale takes place on something the characters call Ushio Island, a great crumbling fortress consisting of wrecked sections of a small island that may have housed a giant defensive canon in a pre-WWII era. The fast editing combined with some handheld camerawork result in a taut sequence that’s very Bondian, including a strafing helicopter a la From Russia with Love (1963).

Image’s DVD includes a rather curiously produced bonus interview with director Hasebe, shot in a video shop in Japan, with a live translator handling the English dub track in place of subtitles. Hasebe discusses his entry into film, first as a screenwriter and later as an assistant director to Seijun Suzuki, and finally directing his own Yakuza films.

Interestingly, Hasebe cites his favourite American directors as Don Siegel and John Huston, but it might not be a leap to suggest his keen eye and interest in certain genres manifested themselves in Black Tight Killers, especially if the cinematographer and set designer were similarly keen on giving the action / crime film a new spin.

Image’s DVD features a decent albeit older print with burnt-in subtitles that are often less than ideal to read, making Hasebe’s first film a prime candidate for a new Blu-ray edition, especially given its explosive colour scheme which offers a wide variety of deep pastel colours. (If a BR is in fact in the works, producers should scour the Nikkatsu archives in search of Naozumi Yamamoto’s breezy jazz score for an isolated track.)

Other films by Hasebe available on video include Massacre Gun (1967), Retaliation (1968), the Stray Cat Rock series, and Bloody Territories (1969), the 1973 diptych Female Prisoner #701: Grudge Song and Beast Stable, and Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976).




© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s Blog — IMDB  —  Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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