BLACK KISS (original title: SYNCHRONICITY) is from Japanese director Makato Tezuka, son of anime legend Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion). The son has yet to fill his father's shoes, in his previous film, Hakuchi the idiot, he still leans towards rambling, overly long, stylish visuals, unsupported by a coherent plot or substance.
The story begins when Asuka (Reika Hashimoto), an aspiring model in Tokyo is looking for a place to stay. Asuka is introduced by one of the production assistants in a modeling firm, Kasumi decides to let her stay with her. Kasumi (Kaori Kawamura) at first is unfriendly, with her own baggage of issues. Across the street is the Bats Hotel, (Bates motel inspired?), from the window she witnesses a man being cut up with a scalpel by a petite woman. (which is actually the climax of the opening sex scene)Upon the police's arrival at the scene, they find a severely dissected man with roses stuck in his eyes. After she witnesses this crime, Asuka's troubles begin, ironically, as well as her popularity. A series of coincidental murders begin to occur. Mutilated bodies with voodoo symbols gets mailed to the police, stuffed animals with body parts and mutilated heads, all with a black "Kiss mark". The murdered fashion models all seem to hold a link to Kasumi.
The screenplay and the direction introduces a lot of ideas and most of them are wrapped around synchronicity. I saw several references to Hitchcock, some European influences and even Haitian voodoo. However, it appears that this undertone gets a little overlooked once it goes into the areas where the mystery goes into the reveal. I know, this kind of film is all about the mystery and the hunt for a killer, and nothing is supposed to be revealed until the final act. It is all about the hunt, and while the direction wants to make things appear as if they were carefully planned, it all turns out otherwise. Thus, the narrative impact never reaches its fruits and what happens is a less powerful resolution to its mystery.
The movie seems to lack discipline. I couldn't really figure out which direction it wants to go, is it a dark drama, mind-bender or horror thriller? It had some very gruesome scenes which should suggest a splatter fest, but it loses its effect when beautified by colors and décor, perhaps this is what the director intended, to express a twisted idea. There is also a lack of character development, there are definitely wasted opportunities with the cult expert and the paparazzi (Masanobu Ando, Battle Royale). There is a lot of visual flare and eye candy(the women are hot), but the plot itself is unable to hold your interest for 133 minutes. From its very sexy and bloody opening it continues with a lot of drama, then goes into mild, mediocre thriller, then some more drama, sprinkled with an occasional, brief horror of new-found corpses of irrelevant side-characters. It steals formulas from SE7EN, Audition and Silence of the Lambs. It fails to build on the tension and suspense to hold a viewer's attention on this type of film.
Kaori Kawamura is the saving grace of this film, she is very convincing, as someone who went through a lot of bitterness in life, unfortunately, her character gets lost for a while during the police investigations plot. Cute Reika Hashimoto's acting is a bit bland, while Ken Mitsuishi (Audition) and Masanobu Ando were really wasted. The film is also well-shot and the set designs were good. Tezuka was able to capitalize on its intended dark premise with the way he creates an unnerving atmosphere; from the crime scenes and dark apartments, they all emulate such an unsettling mood. The camera work and the cinematography, combined with the gore made for some extra points in the creep factor despite its low budget.
Tezuka has a good eye for visuals which helps make this film bearable, its his lack of story-telling that kind of makes me grind my teeth. The film itself lacked closure, and it got a little over-reaching when it comes to its motifs and themes. The ending has got to be one of the most frustrating climaxes in Japanese horror-thrillers. Is the identity/motive of the killer revealed? Is it really?! It has some interesting parts, good kill scenes and gore, the pre-kill sex scene and admittedly, it felt more like an American slasher than a psychological thriller, one would be better off knowing this so they could expect less.
BLACK KISS remains a mixture of very interesting parts which does not coalesce to an effective, at least interesting whole. It is worth a look at least once, but only because of its flamboyant style. The film gets the atmosphere right, but I just did not like the final act and it definitely had issues with the way it was structured.
RENTAL [3 Out of 5 Stars]
PICTURE: Anamorphic widescreen (1.85 ratio). The technical aspect is matchless. From its radiant colors, deep blacks(where needed) and sharpness. I have no complaints with the picture, truly top-notched. Kudos to Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock. AUDIO/SUBTTITLES: 2.0 Dolby digital in Japanese language. I don't think 5.1 channels are needed here, the 2.0 track did sound very exceptional. The subtitles are well executed. Features: Very much needed Deleted scenes and Director interviews, trailers, Stills/gallery, tokyo shock trailers. (I wished it had an alternate ending)
A Version of this Review was originally posted at amazon.com on June, 2007