Cocky combat photographer Hondo (Akira Kobayashi) - so cool he quaffs a beverage in the midst of a shootout in Vietnam - is on a dinner date with pretty air stewardess Yoriko (Chieko Matsubara) when she is suddenly abducted by a gang of go-go dancing ninja girls in black tights! The foxy femmes frame Hondo for the killing of gangster Lopez, leaving the luckless shutterbug a target for clueless cops and an international crime syndicate who want to get their greasy hands on Yoriko too. Sprung from jail by his American buddy Bill, Hondo sets out to find Yoriko and learn why everybody is after her. Meanwhile, those beautiful black tight killers keep popping up to either help or hinder him, wielding such unorthodox ninja tricks as bubblegum bullets, measuring-tape swords and vinyl record throwing discs.
Nikkatsu, Japan’s oldest film studio, ruled the Sixties with their hip, stylish pop art thrillers. Black Tight Killers, known as “Don’t Touch Me… I’m Dangerous!” in Japan, is a fine example of what they did best, before the box office crisis drove them to crank out nothing but so-called “roman porno” (romantic porn) movies from the Seventies onward. A vehicle for reigning matinee idol Akira Kobayashi (who made scores of westerns as a singing cowboy!), the film is equal parts James Bond spy spoof and MGM mod-musical. From the jazzy opening credits featuring a chorus line of hip-swivelling ninja go-go girls, action specialist Yasuharu Hasebe turns the scope screen into a riot of pop art playfulness. The exquisite art direction and eye-popping colours include an exceptional dream sequence wherein Yoriko flees her pursuers across a screen that switches from black and white to yellow to pink and blue. These are the kind of stylistic tricks Hasebe’s mentor Seijun Suzuki used in his films, albeit in a more self-conscious way, but Black Tight Killers does have a witty script to match its witty visuals.
Japanese action-thrillers never needed Woody Allen to spoof them with What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) since they already had a wicked sense of humour to begin with. In a brilliantly sustained running gag, each of the black tight killers dies a Wile E. Coyote style death, whereupon Hondo soliloquises a heart-rending send-off. It’s black comedy done with the lightest touch. Charismatic Akira Kobayashi makes a delightfully wry leading man. Turning traditional machismo on its head he is increasingly befuddled by every bizarre twist of the plot. It’s a splendid performance, more nuanced than his Hong Kong spy spoof counterparts, and equal parts comic and cool. Notably when golf-loving black tight vixen Akiko (Akemi Kita) hops in Hondo’s bed and nearly strangles him between her thighs during lovemaking. Further underlining the Bond parallels Hondo picks up his own arsenal of ninja gadgets from a Q-alike comic relief ninja master, while Hasebe handles the outlandish action set-pieces with aplomb. Action movies were where Hasebe’s heart lay and one can sense his resentment at having to toe the studio line in his later run of violent porno movies, e.g. Rape! (1976) and Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976).
The plot has something to do with Yoriko’s father and some hidden gold, but really boils down to a series of fiendish traps and daredevil escapes. Maybe not as substantial as the best of Seijun Suzuki but among the best of its kind Asia has to offer.