Film reviews

Black Test Car (1962) / The Black Report (1963) – Blu-ray Review

The fine folks at Arrow are at it again, bringing us two movies from Japanese director Yasuzo Masumura in the form of the first ever Blu-ray release of Black Test Car and The Black Report, two movies dealing with corrupt and cynical people who will stop at nothing to win.

Black Test Car is, according to Arrow, a “bitingly satirical espionage thriller” set in the post-war Japanese motor industry as rival companies Tiger and Yamato attempt to outdo each other in being the first to bring a sports car to market, both willing to do whatever it takes to be first.

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The Black Report, meanwhile, is a story of murder, money and lies as a Public Prosecutor goes up against a sleazy lawyer who will get his witnesses to say whatever it takes to win. Both of these films are filled with horrible people doing horrible things, their only concern being victory by any means necessary.

In Black Test Car we follow the story of the Tiger car company, desperate to try and keep their arch rivals Yamato from stealing all their company secrets. They form an internal investigation team headed by the ruthless Onada (Hideo Takamatsu), who applies pressure to his juniors including Yutaka Asahina (Jirô Tamiya) who goes as far as telling his girlfriend Masako (Junko Kanô) to sleep with one of the Yamato execs to steal information from him.

In this story these Japanese businessmen throw their weight around in ways that would make even the Yakuza blush, bullying, spying, informing and blackmailing anyone and everyone to ensure that they are the first to market with their new car. In the end one company emerges triumphant, but at what cost? Masumura presents a scathing indictment of capitalism’s seedier sides while poking holes in the idea that competition results in superior products being brought to market.

The Black Report, which stars like half the cast from Black Test Car (seriously, I spent the first few minutes going “Oh it’s you! And you! And you as well!”), is a tale of murder, infidelity, lies and a missing 23 Million Yen. When Kakimoto, head of a food company, is found murdered, the police swiftly find multiple people with potential motives. Who was involved, and who was responsible? The secretary who was also his mistress? The unfaithful wife? The man she had been having an affiar with? The angry son disgusted by his father’s lecherousness? What starts as a seemingly straightforward case for Public Prosecutor Kido becomes a bleak and muddled affair with the arrival of a lawyer by the name of Yamamuro (Eitarô Ozawa) who is well known for… muddying the waters, to put it politely.

Once again Masumura presents a tale of corporate and legal corruption, and people with few morals and scruples, willing to lie on the stand for money. Even our hero Kido shows the cracks in his personality when things turn against him, growing increasingly angry and frustrated as the case goes on. Of the two films this is the more ponderous one, though certainly not in a bad way. It’s a film of two halves, the first half given over to a thorough and painstaking look at the police building their case, the trial taking up the majority of the latter half.

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The restoration is Arrow’s usual fine job, with both of these films presented in pin-sharp black and white, both with new English translations as well. The audio is Japanese only. There’s little in the way of special features on this disc, as is perhaps to be expected with this somewhat more obscure release, but the featurette featuring Jonathan Rosenbaum really does help to put the films into the context of their culture and the time, shedding more light on the director, his worldview and the culture of the time that shows just how provocative these films were compared to the majority of other Japanese cinema.

This is definitely one of Arrow’s more cult releases, but with films like this on offer this director deserves to be better known in the West. Is it worth purchasing? Yes. Fans of Japanese cinema, fans of cult cinema, this is one that should be in your collection.

Black Test Car and The Black Report are out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

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