Color, 1966, 87m. / Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe / Starring Akira Kobayashi, Chieko Matsubara / Image (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

While maverick director Seijun Suzuki has become a cult favourite example of Japanese cinema at its most excessive and stylized, Black Tight Killers offers an equally dazzling display of pop art compositions, groovy music, and outrageous plot twists, all performed in tongue-in-cheek style by an enthusiastic cast. The title pretty much sets the mood, not to mention opening credits featuring a line of foxy femmes in skintight Emma Peel outfits go-go-ing their hearts out on day-glo sets out of a '50s MGM musical. Upon returning from a combat tour as a photographer in Vietnam, Hondo (Akira Kobayashi) goes out for a dinner date with pretty Yoriko (Chieko Matsubara) only to see her abducted by a band of female killers in black tights. The assailants leave behind a dead man whose murder is pinned on Hondo by the police, but fortunately a friend show up to supply him with an alibi. Hondo begins to track down the missing girl and constantly runs into the black-clad assassins, who have a habit of showing up at convenient moments to either help or hinder him. Are they evil pranksters, or is there some deeper conspiracy at work here?

Often hilarious in its whiplash transitions from one exploitable scene to another, Black Tight Killers doesn't take itself seriously for a moment but manages to wipe out an astonishing percentage of the cast before the closing credits. Matsubara manages to remain sympathetic and believable even during the most outrageous events, with characters often flying out of windows, prancing around in skimpy outfits, and using ancient secret ninja defense techniques like bubble gum spitting and album hurling. Extra bonus points for the swanky lounge soundtrack, which adds immeasurably to the fun. Austin Powers only wishes he had it this good.

Though not one of the better known Japanese spy film, Black Tight Killers has held up well over the years and looks just fine in this print acquired by the American Cinematheque. The punchy colours couldn't look any richer, while the scope framing looks just about right. The master was the only subtitled print in existence (there was no original English language release), so the subs are white and burned-in with touch and go results. Besides, how else are you going to see it? It's basically a sweet and silly little puffball of a movie, but Black Tight Killers offers plenty of fun and action for spy fans, and lots of retro campiness for everybody else. The disc (packaged with extensive liner notes by Chris D. from the Cinematheque) also includes the original Japanese trailer with occasional English pitch lines thrown in to make it more palatable for international viewers.

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