60’s-style cool in a cinemascope stripe, more Seijun Suzuki than Red Angel. The upstart Tiger motor company tries to release a new sports car but the larger Yamoto company is trying to steal their ideas and sabotage their success. Asahina is a young Tiger engineer expected to become department head after the new car’s launch, but after going along with his bosses in the spy game – including selling out his girl to get trade secrets – he walks out at the end, saying Tiger has become as dirty as their competitors.
A test car crashes dramatically. Asahina’s girl Masako works at a bar, tries to get the competitors to talk. Tiger employees attempt to sell fake designs to Yamoto, but Yamoto has already stolen the real plans. A designer is kidnapped. A triple-crossing reporter gets payment from all sides. A board meeting is filmed through the window and a lip-reader employed to translate. A collector buys the first car off the line, rigs its destruction on train tracks and says the car was a lemon, drawing big publicity. The Tiger employee responsible for the leaks is discovered and kills himself. It’s all pretty action-packed for a movie populated by motor engineers.
The IMDB only feels like listing a few of the actors. Our moral hero was Jiro Tamiya, who costarred in a popular series of films known as Bad Reputation or Tough Guy. His girl was Junko Kano – didn’t act for long, not in anything else I’ve heard of. Bald Tiger unit boss Onada was Hideo Takamatsu of A Wife Confesses. Hiraki, fresh-faced son-in-law of the hospitalized company head, was Eiji Funakoshi, star of Fires on the Plain and Blind Beast.
Throughout his career, Masumura displayed a flair for the ludicrous, and frequently skewered his countrymen’s Westernizing pretensions by mocking the ways in which the new religion of business was costing them their souls. Black Test Car is largely effective because Masumura plays the story relatively straight. Shooting in stark black and white, in crowded rooms framed at cramped angles, Masumura keeps the mood tense and coaxes performances that are earnest without becoming campy. The boardroom chatter—along the lines of, “People want speed and luxury!”—coupled with the fast-paced editing make Black Test Car play like a darkly sophisticated live-action episode of Speed Racer.