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Black Rose Mansion

Ventura // Unrated // February 25, 2003
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted March 25, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The mysterious chanteuse Ryoko Fujio arrives in town and begins to perform at Sako Kyohei's Black Rose Mansion. She appears and leaves at the same times every day. No one knows her past. No one knows were she lives, but everyone it seems is bewitched by her presence. Men who claim to be former lovers and husbands begin to arrive, each with a different story, a different view of her, and each one she rejects and says she doesn't even know. After the death of one of her proclaimed ex-lovers and her assistant, Sako takes her in and renovates the mansion for her. Then, Sako's son, Wataru, the families black sheep, returns, and he too is under Ryuko's spell, willing to jeopardize everything, his family and his life, to be with her.

Black Rose Mansion (1969) is a tepid, predictable melodrama, even by the worst soap opera and romance novels standards, and remains remarkable because the lead vixen is a man, Japanese drag queen Akihiro Maruyama. Director Kinji Fukasaku had previously worked with Maruyama the year before in the funky exaggerated 60's caper film Black Lizard. In Lizard's high camp setting, a drag queen cast as a nefarious criminal worked quite well and lent a bit of fun to the already over the top proceedings, but in Black Rose Mansion the drag queen as a lusty sex object, some deadly siren, is just downright creepy and far less effective. Instead of being some insightful bit of subtext, it is just distracting. I doubt anyone with a good pair of sober eyes and ears will question that Akihiro Maruyama is very obviously a man, so as various men fawn over him and he flashes a forced not-feminine giggle, it is weird. And, I mean, in a bad way weird, setting up an unconvincing air over the entire film from the start, and is neither fun, nor adequately surreal enough to merit the casting of a drag queen as this supernatural object of desire.

Fukasaku was one of Japans great cult directors. Best known for his crime films/yakuza pictures, like the Battle series, Yakuza Graveyard, Sympathy for the Underdog, Triple Cross and Cops Vs. Thugs, he also delved in sci-fi with Message from Space and The Green Slime, samurai pictures like Shogun's Samurai, Legend of the Eight Samurai and The Fall of Ako Castle, the Japanese segments of Tora, Tora, Tora, and saw success recently at the end of his life with the controversial, cannot be ignored Battle Royale. Black Rose Mansion definitely ranks as a lesser work and a bit of a misstep though some of his trademark visuals show through. It is also fair to argue that among his 60+ films there are quite a few that pale in comparison.

The DVD: Ventura/Chimera

Picture: Anamorphic Letterbox. Wow, for a cult film it looks quite good. The print is relatively free of any glaring age wear. Sure, there is a spot or two here and there, but overall it is vibrant in color, deep contrast, and good sharpness. Technically it is quite smooth, no noticeable artifacts or edge enhancement. The only troublesome quirk probably has more to do with he actual production- some of the details are lost in many scenes that are too dark and underlit, this goes both for some outdoor night scenes as well as interiors. Cult film fans will find themselves satisfied by the image quality, it ranks among Blue Underground or Anchors Bays transfers.

Sound: Mono Japanese language with optional yellow English subtitles. Audio presentation is as fine as can be expected given the material. Soundtrack is free of any glaring distortions like age hiss or pops. It should be noted that the already scant hour and a half film is padded with three musical numbers from Mr./Mrs. Maruyama, and I'm at a loss as to why people found him/her so captavating a singer. I think it had more to do with wondering what was under his kimono than a pleasant singing voice.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers for Black Rose Mansion, Happiness of the Katakuris, Audition, Everything Put Together and City of Lost Souls--- History of the Egyptian Theater (8:00). Video tour of the theater.--- Kinji Fukasaku Interview (20:14). Actually, this feature is probably better than the film, especially in light of Fukasaku-sans recent death, a brave one where he refused chemotherapy and cancer pain medication so he could remain lucid while trying to complete his final film Battle Royale 2. He gives detailed answers and his memory of making both Black Lizard and Black Rose Mansion is sharp.

Conclusion: Black Rose Mansions transfer is very good and the so is the extra of a Fukasaku interview. Certainly those building a cult film collection or die-hard Fukasaku fans will want to add it to their DVD library. However, the film itself just isn't that great so I'm going to have to suggest it as a rental for anyone unfamiliar with the film. This is one of those cases where a blind purchase is not the best idea.

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