Black Kiss (2004) was directed by Macoto Tezuka, the son of anime/manga legend Osamu Tezuka, the man behind such landmarks as Kimba The White Lion and Astro Boy. The apple has apparently fallen quite far from the tree and this live action horror-thriller feels more like it was directed by some unknown son of Mario Bava, Brian DePalma, or Dario Argento. The film also makes some direct references to Hitchcock, further setting the bar high for its prospects as a worthy suspense tale.
The film opens following a young model who is being wined and dined by a slickster agent named Isamu. We can tell that Isamu is a lothario, but he manages to charm the young girl into going to a hotel (The ‟Bats Motel‟- get it?). After the two do the deed, Isamu wakes up to find the girl missing, is knocked out, and wakes up tied to the bed with a creepy, black-lipped mystery woman straddling him. The woman takes out a scalpel and starts to make Isamu her biology lab frog.
The only witness to the murder is Asuka (Reika Hashimoto- Survive Style 5+) another model who lives across the street with punk/goth model Kasumi (Kaori Kawamura). Of course, its no mere coincidence that the two models know Isamu and the girl he was wining and dining, who we find out later was also killed. The crime scene is a puzzle to the investigators, a bizarre act and staging that points to a serial killer or perhaps a ritualistic cult: no signs of how the killer entered or left the locked room, medically precise dissection, missing body parts (that later show up in elaborate, ornate packages or morbid sculptures), snake bones and chicken blood at the crime scenes, numerology, poison from rare plants, etc.
Black Kiss is over two hours long and it uses every frame of that running time to add character details, mainly between half breeds Asuka and Kasumi, and multiple killer suspects and theories. Those latter, procedural aspects of the film focus on a young detective named Yusuke, who naturally has a past connection with Kasumi. Unfortunately, while a few more bodies pile up, really the film dilutes much of the shock and suspense in favor of hollow detail,... upon detail,... upon detail. While you get some character dynamics between the couldn't be more different, sweet glamour model Asuka and dour, fresh off a heroin binge looking Kasumi, mainly the film is all about raising different suspects. Is the killer Kasumi?, her dad?, her thought to be dead sister?, her sister's killer?, a cult?, a notorious, mythical serial killer?, another model?, Kasumi's stalker photographer ex boyfriend who's romancing Asuka?, a killer for hire?, a retired detective who was a cult crime expert?, and so on and so forth.
When the film does finally get down to the final face off, the killer reveal is one of the worst I've ever encountered. Not only does it feel quite half-hearted and confusing, its all the more bothersome that the film spent so much (wasted) time plotting all kinds of suspects, only to choose the most silly and obligatory of them all for its murderous source. It is quite clear that chief on the director/writers mind was a bunch of visuals and not a coherent story or one that actually imbued the film with some suspense. It wears the mask of a suspense film, sure, but, rather than actually establishing a sense of dread, it is far too concerned with dryly mounting up its number curious red herrings. As a matter of fact, the main characters, despite having witnessed a murder, don't seem to be all that fearful of a crazy killer lurking around killing people they know. They spend a lot of time girl bonding, fretting over their reputations, Asuka staring off into space blankly (at certain angles appearing like a Punch puppet), Kasumi livin' on the edge (but looking more like a forty year old actress pretending to be twenty), and having a silly, bickering falling out more than they do getting involved in the mystery.
The one inspired notion Black Kiss should have stolen from giallos is the fact that you need some kind of proactive protagonist, not a clueless rookie detective or two ineffective models. Even if your main character is just stumbling along in the mystery, at least you need to have someone who is more driven than the crew in Black Kiss. But, honestly the film throws some much muddled killer motivation and method at you, much of it utterly meaningless and just weird for weirdness sake, its easy to see why the characters weren't written in as more involved in the serial shenanigans.
The DVD: Media Blasters.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Well, Macoto Tezuka does get the image right. Rife with lurid colors and murky details, the film looks like a Fincher-ized version of an Argento film. The print appears to be clean. Contrast, like I said, adheres to the murkier side, forsaking deep, deep blacks for more molten blacks, grays, and browns. Softness is apparent as well a fairly high grain level. The image has some compression issues resulting in some loss of detail, shimmering, and some noisiness.
Sound: 2.0 Stereo, Japanese with optional English subtitles. A fairly flat mix: clear dialogue, unremarkable atmospherics, and a score that has some weak attempts at giallo-inspired tunes.
Extras: Trailer. -- Still Gallery. -- Featurettes: Truth of Black Kiss (18:01) and Mystery of Black Kiss (13:57). Basically, these are director interviews, in the first he talks about the overall project, in the second about the approach to the films killer motivation.-- 5 Deleted Scenes.
Conclusion: The only thing consistent about Black Kiss is its messy logic and generally convoluted storytelling. The stylistic flourishes make it watchable, though most are likely to find its two plus, meandering hours a bit of a slog. The DVD is a halfway decent affair with a passable presentation and some okay extras, making this bit of misguided foreign horror worth a casual rental.