The Black Test Car

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Yasuzo Masumura was the preeminent commentator on Japanese society in the post-war period. His style was diverse; ranging from the melodramatic Manji (1964) to the erotic Blind Beast (1969). All of these films deal with, in one way or another, the corruption of Japanese culture by American capitalism. Black Test Car (1962) is a darker, more noir inspired cousin to his earlier film Giants and Toys (1958); though this time Masumura isn’t making a comedy about corporate warfare, he’s making a thriller.

Masumura’s framing is immediately recognizable with its comic book inspired dynamism in terms of its composition. There are also aspects of Black Test Car that seem to have been imported from Giants and Toys directly, such as the rival company truck parked outside of the protagonists’ head quarters with a megaphone, spewing propaganda. Black Test Car does away with color and embraces not just the look of noir, but the tone as well. Black Test Car is unrelenting in its depiction of the seediness of corporate espionage, preferring the shock the audience rather than gently provoke a response. The film’s moral is quite literally that “capitalism corrupts”. The coda of the film presents a stark contrast to what came before by not just showing a change of heart in one of the central characters, but by incorporating the natural world (in this case the ocean) into the frame. Ironically Masumura’s tactics are ripped straight from the pulpy American crime films of the forties and fifties. Masumura has adopted American film technique and turned it against the economic system that had born it.

Even in films that don’t deal as directly with Japanese economic identity and Americanization, Masumura manages to get in a few good punches. The Arrow Video release of Black Test Car comes with The Black Report (1963) which, in the first few minutes of this courtroom thriller, establishes every suspect based upon the brand of cigarettes they smoke. It’s all in the subversive little details that one can identity a film as Masumura’s. No matter how bold or genre specific his cinematic gestures may be, somewhere, if one looks closely, one will find Masumura himself.