top of page
  • Writer's pictureTyler Foster

Black Tight Killers Blu-ray Review


Radiance Films

Blu-ray Release: February 27th, 2024

Video: 2.28:1/1080p/Color

Audio: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 86:38

Director: Yasuharu Hasebe


Photographer Daisuke Hondo (Akira Kobayashi) is on his way home to Tokyo, following an assignment in Vietnam. On the plane, he becomes smitten with a beautiful stewardess named Yoriko Sawanouchi (Chieko Matsubara), and asks her out on a date. She agrees, and things seem to be going well at dinner, until she is attacked by a mysterious man, and then the man is killed by a trio of beautiful women in leather jackets, who kidnap Yoriko. Desperate to find her, Hondo embarks on an impromptu investigation into Yoriko's past, which leads him to more of the same group of dangerous women, who turn out to be part of a gang of ninjas known as the Black Tight Killers.


Even if the box copy didn't mention it, there's no mistaking the influence of filmmaker Seijun Suzuki on Black Tight Killers director Yasuharu Hasebe. Hasebe was mentored by Suzuki, and the same brightly-colored 1960s pop-art flourishes that made Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter so cool are obvious here, in Hasebe's debut feature. Even in the brief Vietnam opening, which is pretty a pretty straightforward war vignette, the explosions are still a bright pink, just like the gunshots in Tokyo Drifter. In fact, Hasebe dials the colorful fantasy elements up even farther than his teacher, with a noir-influenced, blatantly artificial backdrop peppered with neon signs as Hondo chases after Yoriko, or a dance/dream sequence of Yoriko being menaced that has her scrambling through various boldly covered backdrops that tear away like gigantic sheets of paper. Action sequences are also well-directed and plentiful, with the movie featuring hand-to-hand combat, car chases, the equivalent of swordfighting, and even an explosive finale involving a helicopter.



The film's over-the-top elements don't end with the visuals and action, either: the Black Tight Killers are a delight to watch. When Hasebe first comes across the gang, dispatching Yoriko's initial assailant in an alley, the women spit chewing gum into his face to temporarily hold his eyes shut while they make their escape. Later, he encounters Akiko (Akemi Kita), a member who disguises herself as a friendly nobody and tries to kill him in his bed. Later demonstrates her skill with a nine iron, whacking golf-ball shaped explosive grenades from the roof of nearby buildings. Some gangs would just tie a captive to a chair, but when the ladies capture Hondo, they place him inside a custom-made interrogation box painted gold and designed to look like a mermaid perched top a rock. Not all of the members in the gang have distinct personalities, which is a shame, but the concept leaps off the screen with a crackling, comic book-like energy.


Eventually, the truth comes out: the Black Tight Killers just one of several parties hot on the trail of gold that Yoriko's father stole during WWII. Everyone's certain that he must have told Yoriko where he stashed the treasure before he died, but she claims she has no idea. Hondo isn't interested in the gold, just getting Yoriko back, but he's got to solve the mystery just to stay on everyone's tail, and meanwhile, unsavory forces start picking off the Black Tight Killers one by one.



Although it is easy to enjoy Black Tight Killers on the surface level, with its cool girl gangs and jazzy visuals, the stolen gold and the departed gang members offer a touch of political commentary. The search for both Yoriko and the treasure builds to a conclusion in Okinawa, where the remaining Black Tight Killers make their last stand. The girls in the gang have an Okinawan flower called the Red Star Lily pinned to their lapels as a shared symbol for their group, and they want the gold not to enrich themselves, but as a form of reparations for the way the Okinawan people were treated as second-class citizens (or worse) during the American occupation. Whether Hasebe takes this part of the movie seriously (like Suzuki did in Gate of Flesh) or if it's just meant as a bit of color to enrich the story, a bittersweet and ironic payoff when the treasure is finally unearthed and what it says about the price the Okinawan women paid works as both pulpy exploitation and blunt allegory.


Video

There's not much in the way of detail in the booklet about Nikkatsu's high-definition presentation of Black Tight Killers, which simply notes that Radiance received a file from the company and did a bit of their own restoration work. In any case, the movie looks fantastic, with brilliant vibrant colors that pop and an impressive clarity. The image has an inherent softness that is in keeping with Nikkatsu's HD presentations from various labels of movies like Tokyo Drifter and Youth of the Beast, but nothing to be expected, and I did not notice any significant print damage or other age-based anomalies. Certainly, anyone who is already a fan of the movie and has been hanging onto Image's 24-year-old DVD will find this a gorgeous upgrade.



Audio

Sound is a Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that is clean and clear, and gets the job done without much in the way of frills. My main complaint, which is not about the audio but the subtitles, is that there is only one track on the disc. The dialogue is not especially important, as it never comes into play in the story, but the opening sequence in Vietnam is in English, and there are no subtitles for this portion. It would be preferable if there were two tracks on the disc, one for just the Japanese dialogue, and one for the entire movie.


Extras

  • Commentary by critic and author Jasper Sharp - Those who watch Japanese movies often will no doubt recognize Mr. Sharp as one of the go-to commentators, alongside people like Tom Mes and Tony Rayns. Sharp delivers one of those kinds of commentaries that is more like a feature-length essay, which sounds like it was pre-written and Sharp is essentially reading it against the film. He speaks quite a bit about Hasebe, Suzuki, what was going on at the film studio Nikkatsu at the time, the look of the film, author Michio Tsuzuki (who wrote the book the film was based on), political influences, how the movie fits into Japanese cinema history, plenty of peeks into the resumes of all of the principal players in front of and behind the camera, and more. Those looking for a more relaxed listen may find this a bit stiff, but there's no question that Mr. Sharp knows almost anything the viewer could want to know.

  • Interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe (8:33) - This archival clip with the filmmaker sits down in the back of a video store (still stocked with VHS tapes) to chat about his career, coming up as an assistant director, his work with Suzuki, and Black Tight Killers. There aren't any big revelations here, with Hasebe's insights being pretty straightforward, but it's nice to have him included on the disc. There's also a fun little bit at the end where he actually looks at some of the tapes in the shop.

  • Theatrical Trailer


As with every Limited Edition from Radiance Films, this comes with thin paper Obi strip covering the spine when the plastic wrap is sealed, which will fall right off when opened (no glue is used). The artwork, housed in a Scanavo Blu-ray case, is reversible, and only the alternate art (which in this case is reminiscent of the poster, featuring an image of Kobayashi holding a gun) has box copy on the back cover (the text is instead written on the Obi strip for the primary artwork, which features a bold yellow-and-black color design with Kobayashi framed between one of the Black Tight Killers' legs ala James Bond, with two more of the women menacing him from the left and right on the front. On the back, there's a brightly-colored image of the women in bold blue, red, and green both in a "tear" above and dancing below. Inside the case, there is also a booklet featuring liner notes by Chris D.



Conclusion

Black Tight Killers is a delightful genre exercise packed to the gills with vivid 1960s visuals, a ton of cool characters, and an undercurrent of real-world political observation that, like the Black Tight Killers, sticks in the knife and twists it. Those who don't know Hasebe but who are familiar with the more widely-recognized Seijun Suzuki are encouraged to give it a try (although there have been enough releases of Hasebe's stuff on Blu-ray in the last few years for him to already have plenty of fans of his own, not to mention anyone who owned that aforementioned 24-year-old DVD). It's a shame the disc is a bit light in the extras department, but the presentation is fantastic.







The images on this page are taken from the Blu-ray and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images.

0 comments

Comments


bottom of page