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Black Lizard - Kuro Tokage (Fukasaku Kinji 1968)


Black Lizard
[Kuro Tokage]

Genre: Extravagant High Camp

review in one breath

Japan's number one detective must match wits, winks and breathless philosophy with the notorious Black Lizard, the sultry, diabolical drag queen intent on stealing the humongous Star of Egypt while adding to her collection of human stuffed dolls!

"... Like the primordial dreams of Lizards."

Taking place in what can only be described as the psychadelically bizarre parallel universe to Austin Powers', brimming with go-go dancers adorned solely with dayglo bodypaint and consisting of underground lairs filled with fluorescent murals and Audrey Beardsley paintings, this utterly unique 60's-style spy thriller reaches comic book proportions. By night the mild-mannered cabaret singer Midorikawa, played by Akihiro Miwa, Japan's most famous female impersonator, turns into the infamous Black Lizard, perpetrator of various grand diabolical schemes. Her latest plan involves kidnapping the beautiful Sanae, daughter of Shobei Iwase, businessman extraordinaire and owner of the incredibly valuable Star of Egypt (which whenever looked upon flashes yellow, blue and red, while emitting climactic symphonic music!), in order to orchestrate a swap of daughter for diamond. Hot on Black Lizard's tail (in more ways than one) is Akechi, who, we are informed numerous times, is "Japan's Number One Detective(!)". When they are not undressing each other mentally while philosophizing hot and heavy on the ironies of crime and punishment, our two main characters are locked in a battle of the mind as each attempts to anticipate the strategy of the other. Though Akechi has a small group of cops (each looking like an asian Dragnet Joe Friday-san), Black Lizard has at her command a far more interesting army consisting of acrobatic dwarves, hunchbacks, yakuza bruisers, love slaves, and a motorcycle gang whose bikes spew colored smoke in ways which would make the Power Rangers weep with envy!

Stealing the Star of Egypt would seem bad enough, but we soon learn that Black Lizard also collects other beautiful objects; beautiful human objects, which she kills, embalms and poses in a macabre museum of "Eternal Beauty". Sanae suddenly seems destined to take her place among the exhibits as an unwilling object of perverse adoration unless Akechi can find the hideout and rescue her before the taxidermy lessons begin! But wait! Has the Master Detective Akechi already infiltrated the hideout disguised as an amazingly convincing hunchback?? WHO KNOWS!!??

The background of this movie is almost as interesting as the film itself. The movie is based on a screenplay by Yukio Mishima of the novel by Edogawa Rampo (Hirai Taro) whose works of mystery and horror were written before the War. The name Edogawa Rampo is derived from a play on the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allen Poe ("Edoga Waran Pou") and was used by Taro when writing in this genre. Yukio Mishima modernized Rampo's "Black Lizard", converting it into the psychedelic manifestation which is this movie. Mishima was a prolific author, many of whose books became quite popular in the West and whose life was eccentric enough to result in the disturbing yet compelling movie Mishima - A Life in Four Chapters (1985) by Paul Schrader. Mishima struggled with homosexuality at a time when Japanese society was strictly opposed to openness and increasingly found himself inextricably obsessed with the male body, resulting in meticulous routines of exercise and body-building. This personal obsession emerges clearly in Black Lizard's collection of beautiful examples of human form, in which Mishima himself (!!) appears as an exhibit especially adored (and fondled) by Black Lizard. Mishima was also an adamant Nationalist who headed his own army of 80 "soldiers" dedicated to protecting the Emperor, who by that time had been reduced to a mere figurehead by the post-war constitution imposed by MacArthur and the West. Two years after appearing in Black Lizard, Mishima committed ritual suicide in the traditional manner of seppukku as a demonstration of his opposition to the Westernization and thereby loss of the traditional identity of Japan.

Director Kinji Fukasaku's choice of casting a well-known female impersonator as the lead female role may or may not reflect Mishima's homosexuality or personal emphasis on Japanese tradition. (Fukasaku and Mishima collaborated on this film.) Female impersonation is in fact a traditional art form taken very seriously in the Noh and Bunraku traditions. To this day, male artists play the female roles within Noh and Bunraku plays throughout Japan. Though such impersonation does not imply homosexuality, this traditionally established ambiguity has historically provided an avenue of exploration and expression for the homosexual community. Thus the choice of Akihiro Miwa for the role of Black Lizard may be to some degree influenced by one or both of these aspects of Mishima. Interestingly, the characters without exception view Black Lizard as a female, though everyone in the Japanese audience would have surely recognized Miwa. And while the movie goes to great lengths to orchestrate the other characters' sincere declaration of the beauty and seductiveness of Black Lizard, no one is as thoroughly convinced of her own beauty as Miwa him/herself who at several points in the movie seems ready to break out into an over-the-top rendition of "I Will Survive". As the movie crescendos with an emotionally swollen tribute to the beautiful of Black Lizard involving 10 minutes of weepy violins and numerous close-up stills of her in various dramatic poses, you will likely sit wide-eyed and open-jawed at the full realization that you just sat through an unabashed psychedelic glam fest! Woo hoo!

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Unparalleled example of "extravagant high camp" based on a screenplay by Yukio Mishima. Mishima himself appears in the film in the role of stuffed human doll, and Akihiro Miwa, plucked of every single body hair, is cast as the leading lady! One incredibly prolonged (and noisy) choking-by-rubber-snake (which was thrown like a spear!). One "be-handing" and subsequent display of stump during the most bizarre "final moments of life" scene I have ever witnessed. One bad lady (aka "snake-chucker") skewered. Much talk of death, embalming and posing. Although our characters' libidinous imaginations are undoubtedly running wild, the only things to get kissed are a sofa cushion and a human doll (Mishima!). One brief glimpse of a amazingly plump Caucasian "human doll". "An Unabashed Psychedelic Glam Fest!" (to quote myself.) Stare in utter disbelief as gender-morphed characters take themselves WAY too seriously! Hang out with your friends and enjoy the show at the underground fluorescent dayglo cabaret! And don't forget to visit Madame Lizard's Museum of Stuffed Human Nudies!


I saw BL on VHS tape over 20 years ago. Who sells it on DVD?'s been impossible to find. I love this film!

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