When executives at the Tiger Motorcar Company discover that industrial spies from the rival Yamato Company have been stealing plans for their anticipated new sports car, they use every strategy at their disposal to not only identify the mole within their organisation but also discover Yamato’s plans for their own vehicle. As both companies escalate their attempts at industrial espionage, young Tiger executive Asahina (Jirô Tamiya) finds himself torn between his loyalty to the company and his love for his hostess fiancee Masako (Junko Kanô), particularly when he has to involve her in finding out information about Yamato’s new product.
Director Masamura uses the extensive industrial espionage undertaken by the rival companies to comment on Japanese society, specifically the destructive nature of capitalism. In particular, he emphasises how the corporate rivalry consumes the professional and personal lives of the employees of both companies. The impact of the espionage on the relationship between Asahina and Masako is the most prominent example, with Asahina more or less forcing Masako to sleep with Yamato spy head Matawari in order to find out the price of Yamato’s upcoming car.
The human cost of Tiger and Yamato’s activities impacts more than just relationships. Later plot twists result in the Tiger executives turning on each other as a result of revelations of counter-espionage, leading to fatal results. Masamura uses the escalating actions of the Tiger and Yamato companies, including not only the forced seduction and counter-espionage but also the bugging of conversations and meetings, to show how the growing prominence and importance of capitalism has resulted in corporations using the same tactics that served them well in the second world war.
Despite a narrative that resorts to being overly didactic, Black Test Car uses its compelling look at escalating industrial espionage to act as an effective indictment of the destructive aspects of capitalism in 1960s Japan.
Corporate skullduggery also abounds in The Black Report, the lesser-known of the two films in this set. When Kakimoto, the president of a food manufacturing company, is found dead as the result of a severe blow to the head, Kido, a young prosecutor (Ken Utsui) investigates the case. Whilst the ambitious Kido identifies former company worker Hitomi (Shigeru Kôyama), who was having an affair with Kakimoto’s wife Miyuki, as the most likely suspect, the couple’s attempt to conceal Hitomi’s involvement with the help of devious lawyer Yamamuro (Eitarô Ozawa) results in Kido facing an uphill battle in securing a prosecution.
Masumura was an important part of the Japanese New Wave and once again demonstrates his condemnation of the economic and social systems of Japan. This outrage can be seen in the depiction of the financial corruption that not only partially motivates Kakimoto’s murder, with Hitomi, Miyuki, and Yamamuro making use of ¥23 million that the debt-ridden president was supposed to pay back, but also the witnesses’ decisions to elude Kido in his search for the truth. Masumura uses this approach to subvert the typical courtroom drama tropes so often seen in Western films – Kido may appear to be the archetypal crusading lawyer protagonist seen in the likes of A Few Good Men, but his seemingly sure handling of the case slowly disintegrates once it goes to court.
This commitment to realism extends to the overall approach towards Kido’s investigation, which foregrounds its procedural aspects over the usual dramatic beats often found in courtroom dramas. As a result, this unwillingness to meet audience expectations leads to a narrative that can be often slow-paced and frustrating to those wanting a more conventional legal thriller. This is further exacerbated by the lack of overtly dramatic moments and an unconventional conclusion that may be realistic but offers little closure.
Despite these issues, The Black Report offers a fascinating look at the Japanese legal, economic, and social conventions in the early ’60s within a courtroom drama that avoids hitting the stock narrative beats in order to deliver an important message about the damaging nature of corruption.
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 24 Aug 2020