Black Test Car + The Black Report
Japanese maverick director Yasuzo Masumura (Blind Beast) helms a bitingly satirical espionage thriller set in the heart of the Japanese auto industry in his 1962 landmark Black Test Car, which launched a series of similarly themed “Black” films.
In a bitter, take-no-prisoners corporate war between the Tiger Motorcar Company and their competitors, the Yamato Company, undercover spies have infiltrated both sides. As Tiger prepares to launch its newest “Pioneer” car and a prototype bursts into flames, Toru (Hideo Takamatsu, The Last Emperor) heads a secretive task force to root out Yamato’s spy, and find out what they can about the competitor's familiar-looking new model.
Making its worldwide Blu-ray debut, Black Test Car is paired here with the English-language video premiere of its follow-up The Black Report, also directed by Masumura.
Arrow Video presents two films from director Yasuzo Masumura, Black Test Car and The Black Report, on Blu-ray. The films share the same dual-layer disc, are both presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and both are encoded at 1080p/24hz.
Arrow doesn’t provide any information on the masters other than they’re high-definition and were provided by Kadokawa Pictures. Looking at them it’s not hard to see they’re older masters, yet they’re actually not too bad, if only passable at best.
Both offer decent if unexceptional levels of detail, and the image is sharp most of the time (a handful of shots can be a bit softer and fuzzier around the edges). Grayscale is okay but open to improvement: blending and tonal shifts aren’t as smooth as they probably could be. At times, the image can also look a little blown out for both films. Grain is there and rendered fairly well all things considered, but there are some digital issues like shimmering in tighter patterns, which is oddly worse in The Black Report.
Both films still show damage in the source, mostly with scratches, pulsing, and frame shifts. The Black Report is the better of the two, though, by a fairly large margin with marks being quite minimal. Black Test Car shows more as the film draws closer to the end with heavier frame jumps, more marks, and more stains.
In the end, again, they’re passable and fine. The issues aren’t glaring, the films are in far better shape than I was expecting, and the strong encode keeps any problems from appearing worse.
Both films come with lossless PCM 1.0 monaural Japanese soundtracks. Both are weak, a wee-bit tinny in places, and edgy during louder moments. But damage isn’t an issue and neither track sounds to have been filtered to oblivion.
Including both films is a bonus in and of itself, but otherwise this is a very simple edition. There is a solid 17-minute visual essay created by Jonathan Rosenbaum offering an introduction to filmmaker Yasuzo Masumura, with the film critic talking about his schooling (he was classmates with Yukio Mishima and eventually had Michelangelo Antonioni as a teacher, the filmmaker later saying he never missed screenings of his former pupil’s work) and early work at Daiei Studios, working as an assistant to Kenji Mizoguchi. While Rosenbaum talks about the two films in this set, comparing him to Wilder, Tashlin (his films are satirical but far more brutal and less good natured), Fuller, and others, he also talks about some of his other work, bringing up the film he considers Masamura’s masterpiece, A Wife Confesses. He closes by stating he hopes this edition will lead to more of the director’s work coming to North America and him talking about them, and I have to confess I hope the same.
The release then closes with image galleries and trailers (sourced from video) for both films. First printings will also come with a booklet featuring an essay by Mark Downing Roberts, going over the Black series of films, which also includes Black Superexpress, and other corporate espionage films.
Disappointingly slim on content in the end, but the Rosenbaum presentation is a good one.
Not a strong release, using decent but older masters for both films while also only adding one significant supplement. But it’s excellent to get both films together in one edition in North America and I hope this leads to other releases.