A feverishly perverse 1969 film noir oddity starring female impersonator Akihiro Maruyama. When wealthy Kyohei hires singer “Black Rose” to perform in his exclusive men’s club, he gets more than he bargains for when she attracts scores of homicidal past lovers. The film takes a bizarre twist when Kyohei’s son falls victim to the femme fatale’s unique charm.
If there was a touch of Seijun Suzuki about Blackmail Is My Life, there’s something of Yasuzo Masumura about Black Rose Mansion’s romantic melodrama with a touch of perversity. Based on a play by Yukio Mishima, who worked with Fukasaku the previous year on an Edogawa Rampo story for Black Lizard (1968), the story’s horror-suspense elements would also seem to bear some of Rampo’s Edgar Allan Poe influences. When combined with Fukasaku’s garishly colourful and typically over-the-top treatment, the whole thing takes on an outlandish quality all of its own.
Centred around the ambiguous figure of Ryuko Fujio (Akihiro Maruyama), a mysterious, glamorous singer discovered in Yokohama by an associate of Mr. Sako (Eitaro Ozawa), the film couldn’t fail to be anything but larger than life. A successful businessman and manager of an exclusive club, The Black Rose Mansion, Sako hires this exotic creature to perform each night for him and soon falls under her spell. The mysterious nature of her background and her comings and goings only add to her allure, but Ryuko seems immune to the approaches of the most influential men in society, be they writers or politicians.
Ryuko however is waiting for her true love and carries around a black rose wherever she goes in the belief that it will turn red when she finds the right man. Each night however, strange men turn up at the club, figures from Ryuko’s forgotten past, their lives devastated by their encounters with this strange, seductive and enigmatic woman. When Sako’s wayward son Wataru (Masakazu Tamura) returns home, it complicates matters further for both the businessman and his exclusive singer.
What actress could possibly carry such charisma to play Ryuko Fujio? None, obviously. In a film where the illusion is more important that the reality, what better way then to cast the role than through a female impersonator? It’s an inspired touch that is eerily disturbing and all the more so since there is no M. Butterfly moment of revelation (or self-denial) anywhere in Black Rose Mansion. The absurdity and perversity of the overheated emotions this gives rise to is afforded an additional twist through the overwrought production design and Fukasaku’s exaggerated mise-en-scène, the Black Rose Mansion achieving romantic grotesquery through the incongruity of placing these peculiarly Japanese figures within an absurd European-influenced Neo-classical setting with Art Nouveau décor, one that bears all the hallmarks of Mishima’s occidental-influenced writing, particularly his trashier work. The film finally topples under the weight of all this nonsense with a scarlet paint splattered bloody finale, and not before time.
— DVD Times.
Subtitles:English (muxed, srt)