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BLACK LIZARD (KURO TOKAGE) (director: Umetsugu Inoue; screenwriter: based on the novel by Edogawa Rampo/Yukio Mishima/Kaneto Shindô; cinematographer: Yoshihisa Nakagawa; music: Toshirô Mayuzumi; cast: Machiko Kyô (Mrs. Midorikawa/Black Lizard), Minoru Oki (Akechi), Junko Kano (Sanae Iwase), Masao Mishima (Shobei Iwase), Sachiko Meguro(Mrs. Iwase), Hiroshi Kawaguchi(Amamiya), Shizuo Chûjô(Matsukichi), Chiharu Kuri(Yumeko, Maid); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Masaichi Nagata; Janus; 1962-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“Fulfilling operatic crime thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Umetsugu Inoue(“Man Who Causes A Storm”/”We Love Millionaires”/”The Glory of Youth”) directs with playfulness this fulfilling operatic crime thriller based on the 1934 novel by Edogawa Rampo. The stylish genre film is cleverly written byYukio Mishima and Kaneto Shindô. It features songs, comic antics, disguises, silly plot lines, a ridiculous melodramatic love story and a cat-and-mouse battle between Japan’s best private detective and the country’s most skillful criminal. It’s unique, but at times seems a bit too ludicrous to withstand critical scrutiny. It eventually got me caught up in its hysterical antics because it’s not that often one sees a musical crime drama that is not afraid after a kidnapping to throw out lines like “the night holds its breath.”

Shobei Iwase (Masao Mishima) started off as a poor quarry worker, but found precious stones on the job and became a wealthy but arrogant jeweler. His proudest possessions are his single daughter Sanae (Junko Kano) and his invaluable diamond The Egyptian Star. His wife (Sachiko Meguro) remains in the background as just another trophy. In the habit of laughing insanely over nothing, Iwase hires the expensive arrogant best private detective, Akechi (Minoru Oki), in Japan to protect his daughter from kidnapping threats. While visiting Osaka so his daughter can meet a potential suitor, Mrs. Midorikawa (Machiko Kyô) reveals herself as the Black Lizard after kidnapping Sanae in her room and having her minion and wannabe lover, the trumpeter Amamiya (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), sneak her out of the hotel in a trunk and take her by train to Kyoto. But the clever detective has his underlings follow the kidnapper, when they spot him leaving the hotel in a disguise and catch up with him in Kyoto. Iwase is grateful for his daughter’s return, but the Black Lizard and the kidnapper are still on the loose. Despite his daughter under heavy guard by martial arts experts in her Tokyo home, the maid Yumeko (Chiharu Kuri) is working for the Black Lizard and allows Amamiya entry. He stuffs a gagged Sanae in a sofa and pukes over it so the help sends the sofa to an upholsterer for cleaning. The Black Lizard now has Sanae and sends a ransom note asking Iwase for the Egyptian Star in exchange for his daughter, and Akechi approves the exchange without police involvement. But the Black Lady fails to return Sanae and goes by boat to her hideout, an abandoned naval base at the Isa peninsular. Trickery abounds, as Akechi has a clever response for any trickery attempted by the Black Lizard. Though adversaries, they fall in love but realize their love is impossible since they are on opposing sides when it comes to the law.

It’s an unusual film that’s worthy of international recognition.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”