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Black Kiss
Year: 2004
Reika Hashimoto
Director: Makoto Tezka
Writer: Makoto Tezka
  Cast: Reiko Hashimoto, Kaori Kawamura, Ando Masanobu, Angie, Seri Iwahori, Kikuo Kaneuchi, Hijiri Kojima, Masao Kusakari, Shunsuke Matsuoka, Ken Mitsuishi, Mitsuru Murata, Jo Odagiri, Shinzen Okada, Eiji Okuda, Go Riju, Hideo Sakaki, Sawaco, Kenichi Yajima
  The Skinny: This exercise in digital filmmaking doesn't hit all the right notes as a genre film, but remains visually stimulating enough for a recommendation. And the killings are pretty inventive, too.
Kevin Ma:

     The opening shot of Black Kiss can perhaps sum up the entire film: an unsettling shot of a rainy street located in the seedy underbelly that is Kabuki-cho. Shady characters walk about as they clash with each other, the camera turns towards a woman standing in front of a movie theater playing Hitchcock's Psycho. Originally named Synchronicity when it premiered at the 2004 Tokyo International Film Festival, Black Kiss sat on the shelf for over a year until Tokyo arthouse theater/distributor Uplink snapped up the rights and gave it a healthy run in a Shibuya cinema. Besides the obvious nods to Hitchcock, the heavy European influence and sometimes experimental style of Makoto Tezka (son of animation legend Osamu Tezuka) would explain the lack of commercial viability for potential distributors. However, Black Kiss remains an interesting, albeit overambitious exercise in atmosphere and style.
     Black Kiss starts off with a seemingly unrelated opening sequence - a model/aspiring actress goes on a dinner date with her womanizing talent agent leading to a tryst at the ominous Hotel Bat's. Upon returning to the room, the talent agent gets knocked out next to the bathtub (The third Hitchcock reference, and it's only 5 minutes into the film!), and as the first of the numerous mutilation sequences of the film, let's just say it's not pretty.
     Then the real plot kicks in: Asuka (Reika Hashimoto) is a new model without a place, having just moved to Tokyo. Through a colleague, she ends up living right across from Hotel Bat's with temperamental and mysterious ex-model Kasumi (Kaori Kawamura), who disappears after angry phone calls. During one of those disappearances, Asuka happens to witness the murder in the opening sequence from the apartment window (Hitchcock reference again!). She also sees the murderer. This sets off a chain of strange killings, random body parts, various ways to use human heads, red herrings, and some model drama to boot.
     Tezka tries to incorporate many ideas and influences into Black Kiss. Besides the numerous Hitchcock references, there are also half-Japanese models, Haitian voodoo, heavy European influence, and most of all coincidence. This idea of synchronicity (thus the film's original title) is heavily emphasized throughout, especially in the opening scenes. But when the mystery is all but solved, Tezka discards this theme and suddenly suggests otherwise. The idea behind a cat-and-mouse serial killer film is that every murder is calculated, with a certain pattern that the killer follows, but remains unknown until the mystery is complete. The inherent dilemma in Black Kiss is that every murder is calculated, but Tezka wants to make them seemingly coincidental, which takes away any satisfying conclusion to the mystery. The result is an interesting concept used on the wrong plot.
     Black Kiss runs 133 minutes - a length that can't be avoided, given the numerous ideas crammed in. Again, the dilemma is that a genre film should not run at this epic length, and yet Tezka only touches the surface of many of his ideas because there are so many of them. Perhaps Paradox would be a better title for the film.
     Previously possessing 20 years of experience making 8mm films, Tezka here utilizes the relatively young HD format for Black Kiss. While it takes a while to get used to the sometimes low-budget clarity of the picture, Tezka and cinematographer Kazuhiro Shirao create a great look, utilizing a yellow-green palate and the dimly lit streets of Tokyo to enhance the creep factor. Tezka also creates some very intricate mise-en-scene in his locations, from the crime scenes to the dark apartments his characters inhabit, the details all help to create an atmosphere perfect for an unsettling film. That, along with Tezka's hauntingly beautiful use of gore, helps make the film's budget seem higher than what it probably is.
     Despite the sometimes overambitious motifs, a conclusion that is a bit far-fetched, and the inherit dilemmas in its structure, Black Kiss remains an entertaining and atmospheric ride. But in order to become immerse yourself, you'll need to chuck the expectation that the film will be full of the gore and pre-killing sex usually seen in American slasher films. While the inventive killings do spice things up from time to time, they make up fairly little of the running time. What's something that resembles a plot, told through experimental filmmaking techniques (the film is full of numerous jump cuts), and possessing a very creepy atmosphere. Approach Black Kiss like you would approach the streets of Kabuki-cho: with caution. It may be ugly, but you may just like it in there. (Kevin Ma 2006)

Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital
Removable English subtitles
Various extras

image courtesy of Interfilm Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen