Sunday, October 15, 2017

Reptile in Furs

A new kind of fantasy was being created in the 1960s in the wake of successful James Bond films, an increasingly strange and often campy world of flamboyant supervillains and subtly perverted heroes. One of the strangest examples of this genre is 1968's Black Lizard (黒蜥蝪) which pits the famous fictional detective Kogoro Akechi against the glamorous villainness Black Lizard played by the famous drag queen Akihiro Miwa. Adapted from a stage play by Yukio Mishima (the subject of Paul Schrader's film Mishima) from a work by Akechi's creator Rampo Edogawa the film has something of the style and logic of the Adam West Batman series but with a greater sincerity in its depiction of a strange adversarial obsession between its leads.

Akechi is played by Isao Kimura, best known for playing the youngest of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Fourteen years later, Kimura still pretty much looked like a kid and seemed an odd choice to for the authoritative Akechi. But he works well enough.

He's hired to prevent the kidnapping of a rich man's beautiful daughter, Sanae (Kikko Matsuoka), who applies for work at a club run by the glamorous Mrs. Midorikawa, who's in fact the Black Lizard.

Although a drag queen who identifies as male in real life, Miwa plays Black Lizard as a woman in this film. After orchestrating the kidnapping of Sanae, she boldly challenges Akechi to a poker game where the detective thinks he's guarding the slumbering girl--in fact she's been replaced by a mannequin. Black Lizard bets all her jewellery against Akechi's career as a detective, the bizarrely high stakes are casually accepted. This is appropriate when we learn just how many cards both players had been playing close to the chest.

The English art nouveau artist Aubrey Beardsley's work is featured a lot in this movie, first in the opening credits and then as a backdrop to a scene in Black Lizard's hideout. The woman soliloquises about Akechi's insight in front of Beardsley's Salome holding the head of John the Baptist, not realising Akechi is secretly watching from the rafters.

The film's unabashedly artificial look supports an unashamedly over the top story of ridiculous gadgets--like a trio of motorcyles waiting around just to provide a multicoloured smoke screen for a car chase--and absurd justifications for Akechi and Black Lizard to exchange dialogue--and for Black Lizard to confess her feelings, thinking for sure Akechi will be defeated this time. Even the kidnapped Sanae, who turns out to be a double for the real Sanae, falls for one of Black Lizards "slaves" and the two rhapsodically begin to dream of being turned into a pair of the human dolls collected by Black Lizard.

It all seems a pretext for a subtly sadomasochistic love making--Black Lizard wants to be caught by Akechi but only once she's been bad enough to really deserve it while Akechi waxes passionately about the thrill of waiting for the criminal to act. These two were made for each other.

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