The Plot: Hondo (Akira Kobayashi) is photographer covering the Vietnam war. While on leave and heading home he meets a lovely young stewardess named Yoriko on the plane. The two hit it off well enough and Hondo manages to talk her into a date at a local restaurant later that night. They soon notice a man standing in the background watching them. As Hondo approaches the mysterious stranger, Yoriko turns up missing. When Hondo heads outside to find Yoriko, he finds the mysterious man and heads to confront him but instead witnesses him being murdered by a group of three women wearing black tight leather. With Lopez dead, Hondo attempts to fight with the women only to be thwarted with their Ninja Chewing Gum Bullet (I’ll get to this shortly). Hondo is at first taken in by the police for suspicion of murder, but is released after a friend speaks up for him. Hondo now has to find out just why Yoriko was kidnapped, who has her and who are these black tight killers?

The Review
Yasuhara Hasebe is a filmmaker that despite anything you say about him, definitely did things his way. A creative force within the Japanese exploitation film world throughout the seventies, he worked in all facets of genre film but his primary focus was in the sexy-girls-doing-bad-things market. Black Tight Killers actually marks the debut film for Hasebe, and would showcase many of the strengths of the director. Made in the mid-sixties, there is a marked difference between the culture and atmosphere that permeates Black Tight Killers as opposed to what can be found in Hasebe’s later Stray Cat Rock series. The psychedelic ideas and laid back atmosphere make the film quintessentially groovy. The differences between the sixties and seventies from an aesthetic level are not that drastic, but when you watch something like Black Tight Killers the differences really do stand out. Here we have a budding and less world-worn Hasebe delivering this kitschy little adventure tale, and it works for all of the right reasons!

Produced by Nikkatsu before they eventually went full steam into their Roman Porno line in the early seventies, Hasebe deftly delivers this spy romp with all of the gusto and enthusiasm one would expect from a filmmaker who had spent the better part of the decade working as an assistant director (to Seijun Suzuki no less) and now had the chance to really prove himself. Often lumped together in the Pinky Violence genre, it is both deserving of the title and not in many regards. For one, the film is produced by Nikkatsu which immediately sets it at odds by many definitions of the Pinky Violence genre. Toei, by all consensus, is considered the one true “Pinky Violence” studio as they created and established these films. These ninja women who wear the black tights that our title comes from are also secondary characters, and are ambiguous in their motives throughout the first half of the movie as well. Hardly what we expect from our Pinky Violence bad girls. In an argument for its inclusion however, I will say that all of the color, style and fashion from the genre is present and accounted for with the female ninja gang showing all of the youthful defiance and energy that the genre would certainly bring about.

There are many great elements that combine and make up Black Tight Killers, but one of the first I should mention has to be the cinematography. This film looks amazing! Despite the obvious age, all of the style and visual motifs still absorb the viewer instantaneously. The lighting throughout continually defies all logic and instead places us inside of a hyper stylized cartoon world. For instance, the wallpaper in a room may be orange but the overall lighting could be dark green and our two main characters standing in the foreground could be covered in a light pink spotlight that shines down on them. These colors shouldn’t work together, but they are so differentiated that they actually do and we as the audience are left with a smorgasbord of visual treats. The camera work is rarely static throughout, with Hasebe and cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka (a cinematographer regularly used Seijun Suzuki) trying to make a unforgettable impression. The camerawork is at all times fluid, jumping between techniques and odd angles and making great use of depth. Cramped hallways turn into sprawling and claustrophobic caves that we track in and out of, the camera flips around with a steady stream of whip pans and zooms that dazzle the eye and there’s even some excellent handheld work to be found.

Part of the reason that the film ends up looking as beautiful as it does comes down to the amazing set design used throughout. The Tokyo streets at night are pitch black aside from neon signs that burn, rooms are painted black with white couches glowing in the darkness and inside of alleys there are dozens of barrels stacked to the ceiling in the background with each one painted green or yellow. There are so many set pieces in this movie that I loved. The black room just mentioned, I love it for the amazing staircase in the center of the room that has no conventional steps but instead features glowing white discs that stand out amidst the darkness. We also have the awesome single-colored backdrops, similar to the opening sequences in many Shaw Bros. films where martial artists would show their forms with red or orange backgrounds. During the introduction of the film we see our ninja Go-Go dancers doing some unison dance moves, but it also comes back into play during an amazing dream sequence where we watch as each layer of these single-color backdrops are ripped apart like paper in a desperate chase sequence.

Black Tight Killers is so over the top that it is amazing that the studio wasn’t disappointed with Hasebe’s effort. They had wanted a very James Bond style movie from what Hasebe has said, and it is kind of interesting that Hasebe went so far as to directly reference a myth perpetuated from the set of Goldfinger – the concept that if one is completely painted, the skin can no longer breathe and thus the person dies. This is brought up several times during the course of the movie and even though it has no basis in reality (as we have all seen via Mythbuster), it is easy to forgive due to how outrageous the rest of the movie is. Did I mention that the film has ninja Go-Go dancers? The audience HAS to realize that this picture does not take place in anything that resembles reality. The ninja weaponry used throughout the movie essentially replaces James Bond’s gadgets. The Go-Go dancers surely have the best and most insane weaponry/ninja techniques used, especially in comparison to Hondo’s simplistic laughing gas. There are hairbrushes that quickly reveal themselves to be knives and tape measures that are razor sharp that are used like swords. When it comes to ninja techniques… these girls have it all! The previously mentioned Ninja Chewing Gum Bullet shows one of the girls spitting two lumps of chewing gum into the eyes of our leading man Akira Kobayashi, which of course leaves him temporarily blinded. These girls also have the ability to disguise their voice in any way they choose, even taking on exact duplication of a man’s voice! Notably these girls can also use 45RPM records as ninja stars, impaling them several inches into hard walls. Did I mention the fact that this movie was a little over the top?

Throughout the movie, which is already fantastical and lighthearted, there are some great bits of comedy that are carried by our leading man Akira Kobayashi. In the opening moments of the movie, while on the battlefield in a life or death situation, this Hondo character (Kobayashi) lifts up a beer in order to have the top shot off in a humorous little moment. It perfectly encapsulates Hondo as well as the heights of absurdity our feature will ultimately end up taking us. Hondo has the answers for everything, but Kobayashi plays the character raw and is so charismatic here that you can’t help but fall in love with this guy. His martial arts technique on the other hand is… interesting, to say the least. The fight choreography within the movie isn’t what I would call the most labored or technical, but it gets the job done and shares that same “sloppy but effective” look to it that Sonny Chiba and Jimmy Wang Yu primarily created. In the dramatic, most of the cast acquit themselves well but ultimately this is Akira Kobayashi’s show and he makes good in every scene.

The Conclusion
I really loved this movie, I don’t know if I have made that clear enough at this point. It is a spy caper that isn’t afraid to be silly, but the craftsmanship that went into the visual style shows an insane amount of creativity behind the scenes. For fans of Japanese cinema during this era, you really owe it to yourself to track this one down. I give the movie a solid four out of five stars and I actually thought about going higher! Black Tight Killers is pure adrenaline driven fun from start to finish. Make sure to check it out!