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The ORIGINAL Black Lizard is a pre-feminist treat!
A few minutes in I realized this is not the 1968 film of the same name, the camp classic staring a female impersonator.... I had no idea the same film had been made only 6 years earlier staring a woman, and to my delight the original is just as fabulous, peppered with weird musical sequences, off kilter camera angles, and dynamic theatrical lighting - yet also somewhat edgier by doing it first and by playing it "straight".... I imagine it was an evolution similar to John Water's Hairspray - a low-budget movie which became a Broadway musical and then again a film.... Most reviews credit Yukio Mishima as adapting the stage show from the original novel - he absolutely did not, the source is clearly this film. Aside from the gendered casting, the two versions of Black Lizard are identical scene for scene. The remake is more slick, has extra sequences, and plays as a comedy. However the original is just as stylish, strange and seductive.
Ms Kurotokage is a mastermind jewel thief whose capers are becoming more brazen and fetishized. She enjoys putting herself right into danger, publicly confronting her victims and then escaping in disguise. Vain and immoral, she takes great pleasure in outwitting her victims, even explaining the crime to them as it is happening. Her desire to steal "jewels" extends to young beautiful people she collects to use as pawns in her game of match-wits with a master detective Akechi Rampo, the only man who truly understands her.... How can she not fall in love? "Crime and detectives are two sides of the same coin" she tells him. And "You romanticize crime."
Although the remake is perhaps better known (it had a festival revival in the 1990s and a limited DVD release), don't pass up the opportunity to also see the gem that spawned it. Everything that makes that film entertaining is also here: the uncompromisingly fabulous villain-protagonist with devoted servants, over-the- top speeches about love and crime (some simultaneous between her and the detective in split-screen), and most (if not all) of the magical visual moments are here too, like characters stepping into a spotlight to speak their thoughts in monologue - in this case it seems less a campy veneer, and more as inspired theatrical tricks to hide small cheap sets and and keep chewy dialog entertaining. Little wonder it translated so well into a successful theater show.
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