A pedigree goes a long way with me. Black Kiss was written and directed by Macoto Tezka*, none other than the son of Osamu Tezuka himself, but it has as about as much to do with the work of Tezuka père as Tezuka’s work has to do with Masamune Shirow. Kiss seems to me more of the sort of thing Edogawa Rampo might have written, had he lived to the present day and fused his conceits of “erotic grotesque nonsense” with modern serial-killer stories. I admit to being horribly burned out on serial killers—I blame Thomas Harris for starting that whole mess—but Black Kiss brings enough twists to the core idea to remain just this side of interesting.
Black Kiss is set in modern Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, all gutter sleaze and love hotels and trashy dive bars. Life is cheap; sex is even cheaper. Through the neon and glitter strides wide-eyed Asuka Hoshino (Reika Hashimoto), a girl with ambitions of becoming a model. She’s pretty and photogenic, but gutless: the other models treat her like dirt, and she acts as though some part of her believes she deserves it. Without a place to stay, she manages to couch-crash at the apartment of Kasumi Kuroki (Kaori Kawamura)—the sullen, tattooed, half-American down-and-outer who works in a neighborhood junk shop, lives with her pet turtle in an apartment filled with clutter she probably filched from work, and doesn’t seem to think much of Asuka and her clean-scrubbed ways. (Give her time.)
One night there’s a murder in the love hotel across the street, where a creep of a talent scout is eviscerated in his bed. Asuka sees the whole thing, and even spies the killer: a woman with a short bob of hair and a smile too wide to be normal. The police step in—specifically, Detective Sorayama (Masanobu Ando), a befuddled and bewildered young man who quickly learns how far in over his head this case has gotten him. He’s puzzled by a lot of the evidence—like how the victim had been stalking Kasumi for some time, or how other killings that surface afterwards appear to be by the same perp (with possible voodoo / cult-killing overtones), or how Kasumi’s family life from back in the States seems to get weirder every time they turn around and probe more deeply, or …
There’s a lot of plot in the film, now that I think about it. So much so that I reflected on how many thrillers like this are constructed out of more parts than they really need, both for the sake of atmosphere and for letting the viewer’s imagination run wild and go into all manner of blind alleys. I haven’t even mentioned the photographer guy who has a long-distance crush on Asuka and sells scandalous pictures of her to a gossip rag (which almost ruins her career), but cleans up his act and even goes a long way towards winning her heart. Or the weirdo forensics expert who has clues for Sorayama and a house crammed with at least as much offbeat bric-a-brac as Kasumi’s own place. (The prop guys must have loved making this movie.) Or the killer, about which the less said the better, and who turns out to be even weirder and crazier than any guess of mine even came close to.
It’s all, again, an exercise in style—not just cinematic style, which the movie sports plenty of, but also the overheated plotting and weird side digressions that add their own flavor and may well be the big reason to see the film in the first place. Serial killer plots are commodity items; it's all in how you package it now. I thought of wicked fluff like Wild Things, where half the fun was in how such deliberately overheated material was handled. Tezka clearly had a lot of fun making this, and for once the fun rubs off on the audience, too. Now let’s see what else he’s capable of.
* Japanese names can be Romanized any number of ways. The most generic Romanization for Macoto Tezka’s name would probably be Makoto Tezuka, which matches the spelling of his father’s own last name. The exact choice of letters is generally up to the individual: Big Man Japan director Hitoshi Matsumoto Romanized his name as Hitosi Matumoto, so “Macoto Tezka” isn’t exactly a stretch either.
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