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Black Test Car + The Black Report
Japanese filmmaker Yasuzo Masumura is probably best known in the west for his seminal work, Blind Beast, but there's more to his filmography than that. Arrow Video dives a bit deeper into that content with his release, pairing up 1962's Black Test Car with The Black Report, which was made only a year later.
Black Test Car:
The Tiger Motorcar Company has just finished development on their latest and greatest new model, The Pioneer, but when it's time to take it out for a drive, the car literally catches on fire. Not a good thing, and yet, it's made worse when it's found out that spies from the competing Yamato Company have managed to get some pictures documenting their failure and leak them to the newspapers where it makes the front page.
Not on to take this lying down, Toru (Hideo Takamtsu), the man in charge the Tiger, brings in Asahina (Jiro Taymiya) to pay Yamato back in kind. Asahina proceeds to then setup a very clever disinformation campaign to throw the competition off of their tracks and get The Pioneer out to car lots and inevitably to the general public without the ensuing storm of negative publicity that they would have had to endure otherwise, all while trying to figure out who the spy amongst their midst really is. On top of that, they also do some espionage of their own to try and figure out just what it is that the competition is up to with their latest model, which looks a little familiar for obvious reasons. Asahina even goes so far as to recruit his beautiful girlfriend, Masako (Junko Kano), to use her feminine whiles to get him the information ne needs, urging her to get closer to Yamato's main man, Matawari (Ichiro Sugai).
Black Test Car, which makes its English language debut with this release, is an interesting film. Part satire, part espionage picture, the film is absolutely beautiful to look at, each shot a masterclass in film composition, shadow and lighting. The score works well and the production values are just solid across the board. The acting is very strong as well, with a few of the obviously committed performances coming a little close to chewing the scenery but thankfully stopping just short of that line in the sand.
Thematically the movie is also pretty interesting. It doesn't deal in black and white morality, rather the whole thing is basically one big grey area. There are no defined heroes and villains in the film, only capitalists out to compete and win the day by whatever means necessary. That, in and of itself, isn't necessarily a good thing, and that isn't lost on Masumura as the film makes us question the actions of pretty much every one of its main players. There's a good amount of food for thought scattered throughout the picture, the right mix of style and substance, making some well-deserved jabs at the effects of untethered capitalism on Japanese society.
The Black Report:
This follow up from 1963, which stars some of the same cast members as the earlier picture, begins when the president of the Fujiyama Foods Corporation is found dead, the victim of a brutal murder, his body found by his son, a wealthy theater owner. Given his notoriety as a greedy and lecherous man, the fact that he was murdered isn't as shocking as maybe it would have been otherwise. Evidence at the crime scene points to the fact that there were three people at the scene when the crime was committed, and that one or more of them was a female. Other people in the house at the time of the killing include the victim's wife, Miyuki, and the maid.
After reviewing all of the evidence, a lawyer named Kido (Ken Utsui) must do his best to put together the pieces of the puzzle and bring the case to trial. There is, however, the not so insignificant matter of a beautiful woman named Ayako (Junko Kano), who just happened to be the mistress of the deceased at the time of his death.
Like the earlier movie on the disc, The Black Report is a visually impressive film with some truly amazing camerawork on display. The high contrast black and white photography helps lend plenty of atmosphere to the proceedings, and director Masumura paces the film quite nicely, building to some scenes of genuine tension that stick with you after the film has finished. Again, the performances are strong across the board, and while the focus isn't as directly zeroed in on the perils of capitalism as Black Test Car, it still manages to offer up some similar observations about Japanese society, making it more than just a mix of police procedural and courtroom sequences.
Both features share on a 50GB Blu-ray disc from Arrow Video with the two movies presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. The black and white films look quite good here, showing strong detail and nice contrast. Black levels are deep and solid throughout. There is some noticeable little print damage here but it isn't particularly distracting even if it does look like maybe it could have been cleaned up a bit more than it was. Grain appears naturally throughout and there are no issues with any noticeable compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction issues.
Audio options are offered for both films in the original Japanese language in 24-bit LPCM Mono and while, overall, it the tracks sound just fine, there are a few moments where you'll notice some very minor sibilance in the higher end. Otherwise, both tracks are properly balanced and clean, with range understandably limited by the original source material. Optional English subtitles are offered up for both features.
The main extra on the disc is a newly recorded critical appreciation by Jonathan Rosenbaum entitled What Masumura Does With Our Madness which runs just over seventeen-minutes. Here he compares Yasuzo Masumura to Billy Wilder in the way that their respective careers evolved, detailing noirish elements and themes that are explored. It's well done and quite interesting. There's a lot of great info packed into this that will definitely enhance your appreciation of these two films.
Aside from that, we get theatrical trailers for both films, image galleries for both films, menus and chapter selection. Additionally, this release comes with some reversible sleeve art featuring newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella and, for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector's booklet that contains credits for the two features, credits for the Blu-ray release, and an essay on the film written by Mark Downing Roberts.
Black Test Car and The Black Report is smart, interesting and well-made films that provide some nice tension to go alongside some astute observations about the political climate in which they were made. Arrow has done a nice job bringing these two pictures to Blu-ray with strong presentations. Extras are a bit light by the labels typical standards, but what is included is appreciated. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.