Every other word is edited out in Judge Joel Pearce's review to match the bad editing decisions made by the filmmakers.
All she wants is a little kiss…
Awkwardly blending typical serial killer elements with downright bizarre editing decisions, Black Kiss is a unique viewing experience. It never really comes together well, thanks to its schizophrenic nature, but it ends up being worth checking out for horror fans nonetheless.
Facts of the Case
Asuka (Reika Hashimoto) is just getting started in the modeling scene, and so far it's not going well. She doesn't have much money, she doesn't have many job offers flowing in, and she's got nowhere to live. She is taken in by tough ex-model Kasumi (Kaori Kawamura), who has an apartment in the middle of a red-light district. Asuka settles in after a while, until she witnesses a grisly murder in a window across the street. Now, Asuka has been targeted, and all the evidence seems to point towards Kasumi. Could her roommate be even tougher than she thought?
Black Kiss has an almost shocking amount of potential. It has stunning cinematography, deliciously grisly murders, and a fantastic cast. Once it was all filmed, though, the editing team made some very bad choices.
For one thing, Black Kiss employs Soderbergesque jump cuts, where short moments of the sequence are sliced out, creating a slight jerk in the film's motion. While Soderberg has a remarkable sense of when to use this technique (see Out of Sight for some excellent examples), it's vastly overused here to nearly comic effect. There's no rhyme or reason to these cuts, and they appear to have been placed simply to feed us visual cues on a regular basis.
And we do need something to keep us engaged in the action. Black Kiss moves very slowly for a serial killer flick, and even slower than that for a slasher film. We don't even meet the protagonist until 15 minutes into the film, and it takes much longer for us to get a real sense of her character. Peripheral characters have lengthy conversations, drawing us in far too many directions at the same time. I do like to get to know the characters in horror movies before they start getting killed off, but I don't need to know everything about all the characters. This becomes an even larger problem in the second half of the film, because there are too many character threads to wrap up. The film runs a rather pudgy 133 minutes, but it lacks the narrative richness to fill that much time.
All of those complaints aside, Black Kiss does a number of things right. From a cast of relative newcomers, director Macoto Tezuka draws out several top-notch performances. Reika Hashimoto and Kaori Kawamura have backgrounds in modeling and singing, respectively, which is usually a sign that bad acting is on the way. Surprisingly, both of these characters are richly layered. Both are only half-Japanese, which makes them automatic outcasts from society. It's an issue for the police during the investigation, and often used as an excuse for the way they've been caught up in murders to begin with. Ironically, it also makes them hot property in the modeling world, because they offer an exotic flair.
The gore is also delivered with the kind of artistic gusto that's usually reserved for Dario Argento and George Romero films. The killer creates works of art with her victims, and it's impossible to deny the creativity that went into these deaths. There simply aren't enough of them to keep the gore hounds happy.
Media Blasters has certainly delivered the goods with their release of Black Kiss on DVD. It has fairly good image quality, with sufficient shadow detail and strong colors. Although it is a long way from reference quality, it's far better than anything we ever saw a few years ago from Asian films. The sound is decent as well, despite being restrained to a stereo track. There are a handful of extras on the disc, including some deleted scenes, several interviews, and creatively named featurettes. The deleted scenes add even more unnecessary length without rescuing us from confusion. The director also makes things more confusing in his interview, which doesn't really explain the mystery as promised. In "Truth of the Black Kiss," Tezuka does explain how things have played out, but it's not a satisfying set of answers.
All in all, gore-loving thriller fans could do worse than Black Kiss, but it won't change the way anyone looks at the genre. It doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense, and it takes way too long to get to the action, but it's more heartfelt and visually rich than many of its peers. Just don't expect to feel fully satisfied at the end.
Not guilty, though I'm a bit cranky that it didn't evolve into something better.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
• Mystery of the Black Kiss
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