Monday, April 23, 2007

Black Lizard

Black Lizard
Original title: Kurotokage
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku, Japan, 1968
Crime / Comedy, 86min
Distributed by: Cinevista Video
(DVD-R available from SASORI-41)

Japan’s top private investigator, Detective Akechi [Isao Kimura] goes head to head with the sneaky female jewel thief who goes under the name Black Lizard [Akihiro Miwa]. The Black Lizard has her eyes set on the world’s largest diamond, The Star of Egypt, in the possession of renowned jeweller Shobei Iwasa [Junya Usami]. To get her hands on the star Black Lizard has worked out a series of cunning plans to kidnap Iwasa’s daughter Sanyae [Kikko Matsuoka] to trade for her painfully desired Star of Egypt.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, you can’t go wrong with a Fukasaku movie. Black Lizard is a perfect example of Fukasaku at his best, but instead of the hard edge Yakuza style that he perfected in so many movies, Black Lizard plays it with a suave campy edge where the two leads, Kimura and Miwa, act out a cat and mouse game with sudden twists to the plot to show how they constantly are one step ahead of each other all the time. When you think that Detective Akechi has a good grip on the situation, Black Lizard quickly pulls her next move which has cunningly predicted what Akechi’s move would be and sets a complete new scenario in play, and every time Black Lizard thinks she’s one step ahead, Akechi is already there to surprise her with his countermove, and that’s how the movie plays. Fukasaku has probably made this structure deliberately and it works with the film instead of against, because even though you may already know that there’s going to be a twist, it just keeps dragging you in as you try to anticipate how they will outdo each other in each step they take. The grand finale is brilliant with it’s many plot twists and sudden revelations when Black Lizard reveals the final details of her fiendish plans for Sanaye and shows off her gallery of life-sized mummified dolls, the panic and fear that Sanaye shows and the sudden twist she’s confronted with as she thinks Amamiaya [Yuksue Kawazu] has come to save her, and then surprise a new twist that you definitely didn’t see coming and at the same time you’re awaiting Akechi to turn up and save the day… It’s an amazing blend of ingredients that make up one hell of a great movie that you’ll want to watch over and over again.

Black Lizard is based on Yukio Mishima’s stage adaptation, Mishimia who two years later committed seppuku, and was eternalized in Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, who also can be briefly seen as one of the human statues in Black Lizards evil lair, anyhow, the movie is based on Mishimas stage adaptation of Rampo Edogawa’s book (who frequently has Detective Korogo Akechi as a main character) and it is an amazing movie with a fantastic aura, great sets, wonderful locations and style that could possibly be called pop-art chic. Quite a few times I find myself thinking of Mario Bava’s Diabolik 1968, or some of Franco’s sexy/kitschy spy spoofs Sadist Erotica & Kiss Me Monster both from 1969 in particular, or even Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter 1966 and Branded to Kill 1967, which is no surprise really, the style, tone and attitude of the movies are very much in the same vain. Tongue in cheek, full of strong visuals, devoted criminals, focused heros , hot chicks and smooth soundtracks. The acting is on a terrific campy level, and the fact that Black Lizard is portrayed by the transvestite Akihiro Miwa, which is never discussed or mentioned in the movie, it’s just the way it is, just adds to the weird atmosphere of the movie, and spices up the passionate thrill between the two leads. (It's worth pointing out that Akihiro Miwa also supplied her/his voice talent to Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke 1997 and Howl's Moving Castle 2004)

Widescreen 16:9, with burned in English subtitles. Apart from three distortions in the source material the print is immaculate. I can’t dream of what a top notch company could do with a digital restoration of this movie.

This DVD-R originates from a vhs master so the sound is Stereo 2.0

None apart from the two page chapter sub-screen, but doesn’t really qualify as an extra does it.

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