Tezuka’s Barbara is a stylish and visually sumptuous neo-noir adapted from the comic of the same name by Osamu Tezuka. Released in 2019, the film didn’t see much play in the West. Thanks to Third Window films, it may have a chance with a new all-region Blu-ray release out this month. For Japanese-film cinephiles, Third Window has been doing the lord’s work for several years now. A boutique label operating out of England, it has gone out of its way to shine a light on many classic and modern Japanese films, sometimes even co-producing some efforts and restoring others. While many of the prestige Japanese classics known to the cinematic community can be found courtesy of labels such as Criterion, Third Window often digs deep to find films that would otherwise not see the light of day in the West. Here’s one such film.
Not only is this based on Tezuka’s manga, it is also directed by his son, Makoto (styled Macoto Tezka). It’s certainly a choice to bring your father’s most adult and sexually charged work to the big screen some 50 years after it was created, especially given that Tezuka the elder was best known for creating Ultraboy. But the younger Tezuka manges a pretty good job of it.
The plot, such as it is, follows famed author Yosuke Mikura (Goro Inigaki), who is popular in high society — so much so that a member of Parliament is trying to marry his daughter to the author. Unfortunately, Mikura can’t take advantage of the relationships that come with his status because of his secretive and, to put it very mildly, unusual sexual habits.
Mikura has a run-in with a drunk lady he finds in Shinjuku Station named Barbara (Fumi Nikaido, in a truly full-on performance). As their feelings draw them closer together, Mikura finds himself in a world he did not expect. To say any more would be to spoil the truly wild directions in which this film goes. Tezuka’s Barbara could be viewed as a metaphor for the artist’s creative process: As Mikura descends further to inspire himself creatively, he increasingly loses the ability to separate his obsession from his everyday life.
Though the film does present some thematic heft, perhaps the biggest draws in Tezuka’s Barbara are the visuals, delivered by frequent Wong Kar-wai collaborator Christopher Doyle. The cinematographer’s noir-ish work here indeed recalls some of his work with the famous Hong Kong auteur. Heck, there’s even a dangerous woman in a blonde wig and a trenchcoat as in Chungking Express. Tezuka’s Barbara is simply a delight to look at. Vivid colours and engaging camera work help the film retain a distinctive and memorable identity even if the plot sometimes becomes a little too esoteric. Strong work by the cast helps carry the film through its escalations.
Third Window’s release comes with a nice set of extras, including interviews with Tezka, Doyle and the two leads. It also sports deleted scenes and an alternate ending. The picture and audio quality are great, and the film’s gorgeous colours are well serviced by Third Window’s restoration.