The Black Test Car

In this 1962 follow-up to his hit satire Giants and Toys, Yasuzo Masumura fires another salvo against Japan’s emerging class of corporate warriors. The tone here is grimmer and more cynical, adding a fatalistic irony to this topical story about two rival auto companies trying to best each other in designing a sports car for the masses. Masumura’s frequent war analogies serve as a rather didactic reminder that the Japanese have simply found a new way to channel their fanatic energies: spies infiltrate both camps, the head of one firm was a fearsome captain in the imperial army, and the old samurai code of loyalty now dictates the behavior of workaholic company men. Even the love-interest subplot, so reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Notorious, presents a dark view of male instincts, though as in most of Masumura’s work the woman proves to be the angel of salvation. Influenced by his exposure to Italian neorealism and working at his Daiei studio with the production crew he recruited in the late 50s, Masumura fashions a mise-en-scene that fits perfectly in the Japanese postwar world: low-angle and overhead shots define power hierarchies, and harsh chiaroscuro compositions suggest treachery in the shadows. This screening is part of a weeklong retrospective of Masumura’s career (check out the superb Seisaku’s Wife, reviewed in the listings); besides having great artistic merit, his films are a valuable document of a traditional society struggling with self-doubt on the brink of economic explosion. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Wednesday, May 6, 7:00, 773-281-4114. –Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.