Color, 1966, 86 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe
Starring Akira Kobayashi, Chieko Matsubara
Radiance (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/B HD), Bach Films (Blu-ray) (France RB HD), Image Entertainment (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

While maverick director Seijun Suzuki has become a cult favorite example of Japanese crime Black Tight Killerscinema at its most excessive Black Tight Killersand 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 gyrating femmes in skin-tight 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 (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. Black Tight KillersAre 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 Black Tight Killersof 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.

Though not one of the better known Japanese spy films, Black Tight Killers has held up well over the years and looked fine back in 2000 in its DVD debut from a print acquired by the American Cinematheque. The punchy colors and scope framing were fine, but the only subtitled print in existence meant the subs are burned-in with touch-and-go results including numerous typos. The disc (packaged with extensive liner notes by Chris D. from the Cinematheque at the time) also includes a 20m58s interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe in a video store, with an American providing translated voiceover for his comments about cinematic influences, Black Tight Killerssocial messaging in the '70s, and some of his own favorite works.

Black Tight KillersA French Blu-ray popped up in 2018 in Japanese with French subtitles, but a much better option is the 2024 Blu-ray from Radiance issued simultaneously in the U.S. and U.K. As expected this is a welcome improvement over the DVD across the board with better clarity, more accurate colors, and particularly more legible dark scenes that don't appear murky anymore. Of course, the fact that the English subtitles are finally optional is a big plus, too! The LPCM 1.0 mono Japanese audio is also in excellent condition. A thorough new audio commentary by Jasper Sharp finds him very much in his wheelhouse as he appraises the film's pop culture charms, its status within the Nikkatsu canon at the time, Hasebe's background including his stints as an assistant to Suzuki, connections to other crime fiction characters and tropes, some tantalizing obscurities from the era that haven't resurfaced, and lots of info about Japanese filmmaking techniques and technical equipment at the time. Also included are the Hasebe interview from the original DVD and the crazy Japanese trailer, while Chris D. provides new, considerably updated thoughts in his liner notes essay included in the limited edition packaging.

Radiance (Blu-ray)

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Image (DVD)

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Updated review on February 21, 2024