Saturday, 4 October 2014

Art of the Poster - Yasuharu Hasebe's "Black Tight Killers' (1966)

Playgirl assassins a-go-go! A Mod/Pop Art sixties masterpiece masquerading as a gangster/spy spoof, "Black Tight Killers" (Ore Ni Sawaru To Abunaize ....  roughly "Don't Touch Me, I'm Dangerous") stars then-current matinee idol and singing star Akira Kobayashi as a combat photographer trying to save his stewardess girlfriend (Chieko Matsubara) from an alliance of American mobsters and Japanese yakuza (gangsters).

He's alternately helped and hindered by a strange band of girl assassins who use razor-sharp 45 rpm records as weapons and wads of bubblegum to blind pursuers. What he soon discovers is that everyone is after a cache of gold hidden by Matsubara's late father immediately after World War II.

The first film from one of Nikkatsu Studios' most talented late sixties directors, Yasuharu Hasebe, "Black Tight Killers" shows a definite influence from Hasebe's mentor, the iconoclastic and brilliant Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill, Tokyo Drifter).

Filmed in delirious pop-art color and directed like a live-action comic book, this tongue-in-cheek Japanese spy thriller plays like a surreal cliffhanger serial dropped into swinging Tokyo and zipped through on fast-forward.

Go-go-dancing female assassins in form-fitting black leather bedevil a globetrotting photographer as he battles the Yakuza thugs and American gangsters who keep kidnapping his stewardess girlfriend.

The women, armed with ninja chewing gum bullets, razor-sharp phonograph records, and explosive golf balls, alternately flirt and fight it out with our suave hero (played with effortless charisma by Akika Kobayashi), while his doe-eyed innocent honey Chieko Matsubara is tied up and staked out in one kinky trap after another.

Director Yasuharu Hasebe was a disciple of genre-busting legend Seijun Suzuki, and this debut film plays like a pulpier take on Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill. 

The ostensible plot has something to do with a fortune in World War II gold and a super-secret treasure map, but it's merely an excuse for outrageous set pieces and high-energy fight scenes, edited with jackhammer rapidity and a giddy disdain for logic. Dig that crazy score of jangly surf rock and funky jazz, and have a ball with the typo-riddled subtitles--they become just another element of this campy masterpiece.

The sharp widescreen print is vivid and bright. The DVD also features a 20-minute video interview with the director, which for some reason is dubbed over in English rather than subtitled.

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