Black Tight Killers [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Radiance Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (5th May 2024).
The Film

War photographer Hondo (Battles Without Honor and Humanity's Akira Kobayashi) returns to Tokyo and immediately asks out stewardess Yoriko (Outlaw Gangster VIP's Chieko Matsubara). Yoriko, however, seems less flirtatious and more paranoid about a man she claims has been following them. Hondo gallantly gets up to question the man but loses him and returns to learn that Yoriko has left. Hondo follows a scream into an alley only to discover that Yoriko has been saved from the man by three weapon-wielding women in black tights who have murdered the would-be abductor. Hondo manages to fight them off when they attack him, but when he goes in search of the police, he is arrested as the suspected killer on the testimony of two mysterious witnesses. When the police try to pin the killing on him of the man identified as smuggler Lopez, his American journalist friend Bill Sommers manages to exonerate him ("He was with a girl… who'd commit murder on a date?") Sommers then reveals that Yoriko is missing, which is of concern to him because he is friends with Yoriko's uncle Okada. Hondo consults ninja friend Momochi (Ikiru's Bokuzen Hidari) on the fighting style and weaponry of the titular "Black Tight Killers" but the older man is only able to offer him some tools for defense from his own bag of Bond-ian tricks. As Hondo searches for Yoriko, he is repeatedly attacked by both Lopez's gang and the Black Tight Killers, who seem to also be fighting one another but also suspect that Hondo's own motives for trying to find Yoriko are something other than romantic.

Having gotten his start at Nikkatsu Studios as an assistant director for Seijun Suzuki (Youth of the Beast), director Yasuharu Hasebe would become one of the studio's major practitioners of the "pinku eiga" genre of exploitation film with works like Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701's Grudge Song, the Stray Cat Rock series, and the particurlarly nasty Assault! Jack the Ripper in the seventies; however, in the sixties just as Suzuki was about to be fired from Nikkatsu, it looked like Yasuharu Hasebe was going to carry the torch with Suzuki-esque films like Massacre Gun and, of course, Black Tight Killers which may be even wilder than Suzuki's films. The film's MacGuffin seems of even less importance than usual that it feels less like a revelation than an obligatory element as the film has long before then revealed its structure to be not a conventional chase scenario so much as "this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened" as a series of serial vignettes in which Hondo is either drawn into a trap and then either escapes it with a secret weapon or is inadvertently rescued by an attack of the "Black Tight Killers" waged against Lopez's gang. Vignettes that are not traps but possibilities for Hondo to learn something more usually end up with the source assassinated by one gang or the other. The film never intends to be serious, with Austin Powers-anticipating cutaways to dancing girls against psychedelic backdrops, waking and dream sequences in which color gel lighting and painted backdrops change on a whim, and the poignancy of every death undercut by their last words that are always complimentary to Hondo. While Hondo ultimately walks off into the horizon with his love interest, there was never intended to be any further adventures of the main character, because this not really a Daisuke Hondo film; it is an Akira Kobayashi film since the actor was the Tokyo Mighty Guy of Nikkatsu's "Diamond Line" stars and always recognizable as playing himself under a different name before moving onto character roles in the next decade as the Japanese studio system eroded and adapted by focusing on genres rather than star vehicles.


Black Tight Killers was just wild enough to be exported with English subtitles rather than an English dub; indeed, it was a 35mm print with burnt-in English subtitles in the frame that was screened by the American Cinematheque in the nineties and the source for Image Entertainment's DVD. Fortunately, the use of this source did not mean that Nikkatsu did not have better materials since a new HD transfer without burnt-in subtitles turned up on French Blu-ray in 2018; and that master is presumably the "high definition digital file" source provided to Radiance Films. While the old DVD more than hinted at the film's visual audacity despite its fading and iffy shadow detail, Radiance's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is a stunner from the start as the opening warfare is played out like a fireworks show with colorful pyrotechnics bursting throughout the frame as our hero recklessly dives around taking photographs to the exasperation of his American military colleagues. The eye-popping art direction is richly saturated, blacks are deep during the studio recreations of nocturnal urban exteriors but a little diluted in the actual exteriors, grain coarsens during opticals including credits and some Japanese vertical subtitles for English dialogue. Finer detail is subject to the sixties anamorphic lenses but strong textures are evident in hair, skin, and clothing fibers in close-ups, and the artifice of some of the film's cyclorama backdrops was never meant to convince as real.


The sole feature audio option is a Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track that is clean and vibrant when it comes to the fun scoring and busy sound effects track. Dialogue is always intelligible because it has been post-dubbed, although unfortunately the filmmakers did not bother to re-voice the English-language performances as the Western "actors" are more stilted than Kobayashi when interacting with them. It is quite obvious, on the other hand, that the unidentified actor in the substantial role of Bill Sommers is not a Japanese speaker, and the voice chosen for his dubbing has more gravitas and timbre then the performer can convey visually. Optional English subtitles are newly-translated and free of errors.


Extras start off with an audio commentary by film historian Jasper Sharp who notes that the film despite some references is actually quite apolitical and that the Vietnam War opening exists solely to convey Hondo's "man of action credentials," as well as Kobayashi's popularity as one of the "Diamond Line" stars and the trajectory of his subsequent career as a character actor. He discusses how the film embodies the concept of the "borderless action film" which were "hybridized concoctions" that drew from various international filmmaking trends – like the Bond films and the Eurospy cash-ins of the period – and recombined them in Japan (although he does mention some exceptions of Japanese action films from this period shot in other countries). Sharp also discusses the influence on the director of Seijun Suzuki, the rather loose treatment of the source novel, and highlights the film's art direction (not the work of Suzuki's regular collaborator Takeo Kimura but seasoned and versatile Nikkatsu technician Akiyoshi Satani).

The archival interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe (8:33) is an excerpt from the Image Entertainment DVD interview focusing on the film, specifically his moving up from assisting Suzuki, his decision to move from screenwriting to directing, and his opinions on the source novel.

The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (2:48).


This first pressing limited edition of 3,000 copies is presented in a full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings – the standard editions thus far have been packaged in slimmer standard keep cases with the embossed Blu-ray banner at the top and the cover insert shrunken to fit – and comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow, as well as a 19-page booklet featuring writing by American Cinematheque Japanese cinema expert Chris D. who discusses Yasuharu Hasebe in the context of the trajectory of Nikkatsu as a studio and its shifts to different genres, and how the film anticipated his later works in the softcore genre.


Seijun Suzuki assistant director Yasuharu Hasebe surpasses his mentor with the wild comic strip "borderless action film" Black Tight Killers.


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