“There’s no fool like an old fool.” Yasuo Tsuruhashi’s comedy “Black Widow Business” is a feature-length illustration of this venerable saying, though it also reflects present-day trends in an aging Japan.
The “fools” in question are the graying Lotharios who fall for the middle-aged charms of Sayoko (Shinobu Otake), a scam artist working in cahoots with Kashiwagi (Etsushi Toyokawa), the louche president of a shady match-matching service targeting elderly, well-off men.
Based on a novel by Naoki-Prize-winning author Hiroyuki Kurokawa, “Black Widow Business” is directed and scripted by TV veteran Tsuruhashi, and shares some of the all-too-common faults of TV dramas here — from over-plotting to a final descent into dotabata (slapstick) wackiness.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||127 mins|
At the same, it is above the general TV drama in its casting, especially in the inspired pairing of Otake and Toyokawa. These two have played a wide range of roles of various moral shades over the years, so their performances as fellow scammers are nothing particularly new, but here they are also layered, distinctive — and funny. Sayoko may go through eight husbands in the course of the story (with all but two seen only in flashbacks), but she is nothing like the scheming temptress of cliche.
As we see in the matchmaking party where she meets No. 8, a doddering retired college professor (Masahiko Tsugawa), Sayoko still enjoys kicking up her heels and, at age 63, still exudes a sexual heat that has long since cooled in many of her contemporaries (including her competition at the party). But once she is “off duty” and in the presence of co-conspirator Kashiwagi, she deflates into her blowsy, wily real self.
As Kashiwagi, Toyokawa plays closer to slithery stereotype as a scoundrel who is well-pleased with himself, if not entirely self-deluded, somewhat like the middle-aged roue who’s still convinced that, despite his paunch, he is catnip to women — and somehow makes them believe it. Whoever did Toyokawa’s make-up, with its rather horrifying combination of congealed spray tan and pre-cancerous freckles, deserves a prize, as does Toyokawa for living up (or down) to it so thoroughly.
The story moves into high gear two years after Sayoko meets and weds the aforementioned educator, who dies in suspicious circumstances and leaves his entire estate to his bride, cutting out his two adult daughters. One, Tomomi (Machiko Ono), already hates Sayoko for manipulating her octogenarian dad into matrimony. Convinced she and her sister have been played, she hires a dodgy private detective (Masatoshi Nagase) to uncover the truth.
Meanwhile, Sayoko and Kashiwagi move on to another victim, a wealthy real estate developer (Tsurube Shofukutei). But he is a sharp-eyed hustler himself, as well as still a sexual force (if a comically portly one in his undershorts). Have our scheming pair finally met their match?
From here, plot twists multiply, as does dialog that may have you reaching for your legal dictionary. But as in all films about con artists or crooks plotting the big score, the story finally comes down to one question: Will they get away with it?
Since “Black Widow Business” is bound for the small screen, as indicated by its TV broadcaster backers, the answer would seem to be clear. But to the credit of Tsuruhashi, a hit-making giant in the TV drama genre, the characters’ various fates are hardly inscribed on their foreheads.
Not to say they are always convincing, especially once Sayoko’s whiny no-good son (Shunsuke Kazama) bursts irritatingly into the frame. The smart, character-driven comedy devolves into a high-volume, knockabout thriller.
But Sayoko remains Sayoko, unsinkable and unstoppable. Somehow I couldn’t help rooting for her. Or am I just Fool No. 10?
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