Thursday, April 12, 2007

Black Tight Killers (1966)

Director Yasuharu Hasebe says in an interview included on the DVD that, although not specifically influenced by western directors, this movie was nevertheless a response to the Bond-mania that was sweeping the world. The latter part of that observation is pretty evident after watching Black Tight Killers, as it seems a parody of a parody, ala Austin Powers, steeped in 60’s goofiness, bright colors, sex and still more goofiness. As with Seijun Suzuki’s work around this time, every nefarious gang has a dance club with lots of young kids bouncing up and down and doing the twist. This film really flaunts its go-go gals, who wear, if you haven't guessed, black tights and go-go wigs. But they will be dealt with later….and I do mean “dealt”.

First, a few notes about the story: there are six spoilers below…six beautiful, yet sinister pussy-cat-like spoilers, clad tights. More on them later.

The film opens by showing the hero, a war photographer named Hondo (Akira Kobayashi) in the middle of a firefight in Vietnam getting shots of colorful candy-like explosions posing, Nikkatsu-style, as something more violent. Thus Hondo’s credentials as an adventurer are firmly battle-tested and established, which is a good thing, too, because how else would we believe that he can wrestle himself free from Octopus Pot? That’s a decisive and deadly move when employed by one of the Black Tight Killers…. whom I will lavish attention on momentarily.

Anyway, on his return to Tokyo, Hondo falls for a stewardess named Yoriko (Chieko Matsubara, also in Tokyo Drifter) who happens to be the daughter of a now deceased man who squirreled away a stash of gold during the war so that the movie would have some sort of plot. None of this is known at the time, of course, but during Hondo’s first dinner with Yoriko, sinister things start happening. Yoriko notices that she is being followed. The man that is following her tries to whisk her away when Hondo’s attention is diverted. Unfortunately, for the kidnapper, three Black Tight Killers descend on him in a in a dark alley. They do a number on his face and leave him there, dead.

Hondo manages to save Yoriko, temporarily, but she is kidnapped again and he spends the better part of the movie trying to find her. He seeks help from an American journalist friend named Pedu or Peter (aka Lopez). Also, along the way, he has several encounters with the elusive Black Tight Killers. The plot thickens and gets tedious as various allies reveal themselves as traitors, and the Black Tight Killers go from being unnerving predators to devoted heroines.
The Black Tight Killers are exquisitely dressed in form hugging uniforms with exposed belly-buttonless midriffs. Who trained them? I’m sure the film said, but it must have been in that hazy middle period of the picture when I quit trying to decipher some of the hard to read subtitles. The important thing is that they were trained. Each girl is skilled in the use of razor sharp 45s that invariably miss the target (when that target is Hondo) only to stick menacingly in the wall. They are also skilled in the use or razor sharp tape measures that they use to slash Hondo’s tie to within an inch of its life. They chew blinding bubble gum, which they can spit in the eye of their prey, should such action be necessary. But their deadliest weapon seems to be the inner thigh. A Black Tight Killer will lure her victim to this trap by playing cold and vulnerable, at first, then audaciously horny. By the time the victim is seduced into range, crunch! Octopus Pot is initiated and the victim only has moments to live! But when killing is not their aim, they ably apprehend their man and restrain him in a golden steambox with a busty neck rest in order to interrogate him.

When the girls switch to your side, though, you won’t find more cooperative, self-sacrificing allies. If you are captured by the real enemy, you could have no better fortune than being tied up with one of these ladies, especially if the real enemy leaves the Black Tight Killer's inner thighs unrestrained. Once she gets the guard’s cranium between her adductor mangus and adductor longus and she constricts her gracilis, the only remaining business is to determine what type of flowers to send to the poor sap’s funeral. Next, she will probably signal another Black Tight Killer who's waiting on a nearby rooftop with some explosive golfballs she's itching to chip into the enemy's window. And where there is a Black Tight Killer, a getaway car is usually not far away.

Unfortunately these girls are not trained well enough. The Black Tight Killers can and do kill, but the nomenclature is somewhat misleading as they are far more adept at getting killed. Only one-in-six Black Tight Killers is denied a death scene and that is not because she escapes death. Instead, she dies in a fiery car crash and isn’t afforded that moment where she can say something tender to Hondo, like the rest of the gals.

Because, deep down, past the intimidating Black Tights and the deadly inner thighs, these girls are essentially pussycats craving the same thing: affection. They were trained to kill because they never met the right man. And Hondo is the right man.

So let's take a look at their final tender moments:

Black Tight Killer #1

Black Tight Killer #2

Black Tight Killer #3

Black Tight Killer #4

Black Tight Killer #5

Black Tight Killer #6

The Back Tight Killers die at such regular intervals that you can virtually set your watch by them. At one point, the last remaining Black Tight Killer laments: "I'm the last one left" and the audience knows that the film is exactly one Black Tight Killer from the end. The total running time of the film is 87 minutes – or, 6 Black Tight Killers. If you run to the store, you can tell the spouse that you will return in about three Black Tight Killers. So on and so forth…..

A not so recent environmental study has concluded that unless proper laws are enacted and people change their wasteful habits, the Black Tight Killer will be extinct by the end of 1966. We should have listened!
Black Tight Killers offers so much on the campy 60s sexploitation scale that it should not be missed by fans of that type of fare. With obvious influence from Goldfinger, there is an erotic dance of two gold gilted figures that is...fascinating. There is also an echo of From Russia With Love when Hondo manages to down an enemy chopper with a bamboo bazooka. (I don’t remember Q giving Bond a standard issue bamboo bazooka, but I’ll let the comparison stand.) But this film goes beyond Bond and shows yet another ingenious Black Tight Killer device: the bra bomb. I’m no hero, but if one of these was tossed in a room, I would not hesitate to jump on it….for the safety of my fellow man, of course. But I’m getting off track…

At the end of the adventure, Yoriko, after being kidnapped two or three times, stripped to her skivvies once or twice and given the Maaco treatment, is finally free to develop her relationship with Hondo. No doubt relieved that the yakuza is no longer after the treasure and that all of the Black Tight Killers have spent themselves into oblivion, Yoriko asks Hondo, with a tinge of jealousy and curiosity, if he slept with one of those girls. Hondo, recalling that delicious fear being at the mercy of Octopus Pot, admits he shagged one of them rotten. Yoriko, who hitherto could not have thrown a punch to save her life, literally, smack him square on the nose. All is forgiven as the titles roll across the screen.

A lot of what I said about Tokyo Drifter could be applied to Black Tight Killers. Hasebe worked as an assistant director to Suzuki before making this first feature film. Suzuki's influence shows. That this particular film pleased the suits at Nikkatsu while simultaneous efforts by Suzuki were leading him into exile, is something I do not fully understand. It is a curious passing of the baton. Hasebe would wean himself away from this style, but in Black Tight Killers he has all that same playfulness of Suzuki, if not all the smooth edges. Several of his sequences are inspired, the most notable being a short dream sequence that is reminiscent of pink elephants on parade. But ultimately, Hasebe does not quite achieve the sureness of Suzuki.

Movies such as this and Tokyo Drifter are good ornaments for a room if you are entertaining guests. Black Tight Killers is pleasant enough to watch without interruption, but just a pleasant with interruption since it always has something colorful and alluring on the screen, and since it does not spend much time making an airtight intriguing plot, it does not necessarily matter what happened before or after. It naturally lends itself to casual viewing. Best served with dried fish snacks and Asahi beer.


Harry said...

I thought I watched some obscure movies. Let me know when you're ready to do a series on zombie movies.

Harry L said...

You make an interesting point comparing how Suzuki was losing power
at the studio at the same time. We have all discovered these movies decades after the fact when they are more appreciated. I think I read somewhere that Suzuki's films were becoming less and less successful at the box office. Maybe you can find something on this?

jeffrey said...

Part of Nikkatsu's reasoning for canning Suzuki was (as you suggested, harry l) that his films were losing money. The other part was that they did not make sense. Yet, Suzuki had a sizeable cult following (based on the story of his suit against Nikkatsu as told through an interesting post on wikipedia) - just not enough enough to turn a profit, I guess. I'm not sure how well Black Tight Killers did, however.

Cyrano said...

Fun fact: The actor who plays the Ninja mentor (and gives Hondo the bamboo bazooka), is none other than Bokuzen Hidari, the guy who played the sour faced, downtrodden-but-lovable old man Yohei, in the Seven Samurai!