The Black Gambler (Review)
The Black Gambler
aka 黒い賭博師 aka Kuroi tobakushi
Original Story by Toshio Nomura
Directed by Ko Nakahira (as Yasushi Nakahira)
Among the lesser known Japanese 1960s film series in the West is the “Gambler Series”, thanks to it never getting any sort of proper Western release. But thanks to the magic of fan subs, the sixth entry in the franchise, Black Gambler, can now be enjoyed by those of us who track down world cinema. The films are obscure enough it is hard to find much about them in English, but basically heartthrob Akira Kobayashi is a master gambler who gets involved in various intrigues thanks to the world of gambling. Most of them are unconnected besides the title and gambling theme, and there were eight in total. I’m not sure if every entry involves international spies and revenge by gambling, but I can guarantee this is the only 1960s Japanese gambling movie where the master villain is a Jewish gambler who used his gambling money to fund the Nazis in World War 2. I’m not even sure where to begin with that revelation, except to laugh out loud like I did when it was announced. As usual, the international gang of goons go up against the cool and suave Japanese hero, and let’s just say you should always bet on Akira Kobayashi (sorry, Wesley Snipes, pay your taxes and maybe we’ll bet on you again!)
At this point, Akira Kobayashi was more of a lone wolf bad boy, but here he is also a suave playboy gambler, which means he got to stretch his acting muscles a bit. Director Ko Nakahira/Yasushi Nakahira is probably best known in the west for Crazed Fruit, Summer Heat (basically a remake of Crazed Fruit he directed for Shaw Brothers), and the first two Rica films. He was yet another director who had trouble with Nikkatsu’s restrictions on creativity, thus leading to his split from the studio and directing film in Hong Kong under the name Yang Su Hsi.
Koji Himuro (Akira Kobayashi) is a gambling man, and is doing his thing at the latest exclusive get-together of rich gamblers, and manages to win all the money out from under a rival pair of professional gamblers. The male of the pair is named Inumaru (Asao Koike), and he later vows revenge against Himuro. But not before smacking around his female partner, Reiko (Manami Fuji), who he then assigns to follow Himuro and report on his moves.
Himuro doesn’t have time to worry about this development, besides having Reiko tag after him (claiming her partner tossed her out after the loss), and having a girlfriend who seems to live with him, he runs into a woman named Nina, who has run into trouble with Yang of the International Gambling Syndicate. Himuro decides to gamble with Yang to excuse Nina’s debt, but despite Himuro’s skill, he can’t counter Yang’s cheating via a monocle that magnifies the reflections of cards in the eyes of opponents. Himuro will now become obsessed with getting revenge against Yang and figuring out how he cheated.
Himuro doesn’t just gamble himself, he runs a network of gambling stuff on his own, including bookies. One is named Ichiroku, and his nose is covered in a bandage. He is important because he looks weird and is killed while helping Himuro try to scheme against Yang. Himuro runs a gauntlet of hidden and random gambling joints to earn lots of cash to use to get back into the game, including racetrack bets, sports bets, sailors with loaded dice (who don’t appreciate being called out on their cheating), and secret gambling clubs he’s kicked out of for winning too much.
Inumaru hasn’t been sitting around waiting for Reiko to call, he’s actively trying to set up a huge gambling event and getting the International Gambling Syndicate involved. Despite this, Yang is angered by Inumaru knowing too much about the International Gambling Syndicate, and tries to kill him (but fails). So now Inumaru has enemies on both sides. Reiko and Himuro grow closer, we learn her sad story about how her father lost all his money gambling and eventually gambled her away to Inumaru.
Malcolm, the head of the International Gambling Syndicate, arrives in town, and after he’s done raping a Japanese woman and confessing to his supplying of the Nazis in World War 2 by gambling despite also revealing he’s Jewish, the International Gambling Syndicate gets to work on their master plan: stealing money from a casino by gambling. Wait, you thought they would have a better scheme??? (Okay, they have a later scheme of Morse code radio wristbands with cameras and rigged roulette tables, but this is just a test run!) The International Gambling Syndicate wins enough to arouse suspicions at the casino, then purposefully loses it all to win more later and alleviate suspicions. This is so obvious it is hilarious, and despite Inumaru pointing it all out, the casino owner tells him to get lost.
Himuro is back and wants revenge against Yang, and counters the cheating monocle, defeating his rival. Yang is a sore loser, and sends armed goons to kill Himuro, giving us an action packed car chase gunfight. Himuro figures out Nina works for Malcolm, but she is murdered before she can reveal too much.
Inumaru takes Reiko hostage and smashes up Himuro’s right hand, which is his lucky gambling hand. Meaning Himuro does all his card tricks that give him good hands at card games with that hand, so he now only has two hours to relearn all his card tricks with his left hand to bankrupt the International Gambling Syndicate and rescue Reiko. Thanks to the power of GAMBLING!
As an aside, the film ends with newspaper headline “US bets on bombing North Vietnam”, which has become one of my favorite closing shots in film history. Remember, folks, don’t gamble unless you are a magical gambling hero in a film.
Rated 7/10 (logo, a nose for trouble, cheating eye, pig’s head!, smashed gambling hand, Yahtzee??, Stacked Yahtzee!!)
Please give feedback below!