As a manga reader, looking through Fantasia Fest 2020’s line-up was thrilling. With more than a few of anime/manga adaptions, I was excited for each one, but none more than Tezuka’s Barbara, a live-action adaptation of the 1970s adult manga by Osamu Tezuka. The godfather of manga, Tekuza crafted a thrilling and erotic manga with Barbara. Steeped in exploitation cinema, noir, and jazz, this live-action adaptation from the author’s son, Macoto Tezuka and features a screenplay from Hisako Kurosawa.
Tezuka’s Barabara tells the story of a famous author, Yosuke Mikura, pushed into erotic and bizarre situations by his unlikely muses, the disastrous Barbara. With his life turned upside down by this mysterious girl, his obsession plunges the story into an exploration of taboos as the story stands as an intersection of the occult, forbidden love, and mystery. The film stars Fumi Nikaidô and Gorô Inagaki in the lead roles as Barabara and Mikura, respectively.
The chemistry between Nikaido and Inagaki is palpable in every single scene. They’re erratic and explosive and the latter’s ability to connect to the camera and his co-star without removing his sunglasses is noteworthy and impressive. But while his scenes in his glasses ooze charisma and obsession, it’s when he sheds the glasses that Inagaki shines in his role. His love is terrifying and his descent into the occult in order to keep Barbara as a part of him is nerve-racking and uncomfortable. On the other hand, Barbara is inviting. Nikaidô is a calm storm in the role and manages to both be an intimidating force and one that asks the viewer, and Yosuke to save her.
Now, there are elements of Tezuka’s Barbara that are questionable from a 2020 lens. The original adult manga was serialized in Big Comic beginning in 1973, and many of the tropes it held have been cast aside or updated by today’s mangaka. That said, this film does a good job of taking those tropes and presenting them as subversive elements that feel tasteful even when absurd or disturbing – especially in the film’s final act.
Tezuka’s Barbara is built squarely on a foundation of sex and obsessive love. While the atmosphere and storytelling fires on all cylinders, the sad reality of the film is the is that some of the eroticism that it’s built on doesn’t hit the mark. While it is a stylistic choice in some of the more fantastical moments early on in the film, the sex scenes feel forced and overacted when they aren’t between Yosuke and Barbara. While it is a narrative choice, clearly, it breaks the film’s atmosphere even when they replicate panel per panel moments from the manga. That said, when Yosuke and Barbara’s intimacy is shown, it’s electric and you can see the way Yosuke begins to be consumed by it. And yet, with all of this, vulgar is not in the film’s vocabulary.
Another high point is that there is a nearly timeless quality to Tezuka’s Barbara. Through wardrobe and technology, there are elements of the film feel like aged watermarks from the 1970s but still, there others that showcase its contemporary setting. This causes an immersive effect that deepens the film’s mystery and contributes to the jazz laden aura that surrounds the events of the film.
Overall, Tezuka’s Barbara is a faithful adaptation of the original source and that’s because elements were updated with reverence. Additionally, there is no bar to clear for entry and anyone can enter this film without prior knowledge of Barbara or it’s historical effect. That said, for those who have read it, the clever costuming choices to bring certain panels to life will excite. Now, this isn’t a perfect film, and for those who shy away from tragic romances with obsessed successful men and their muses, this offers much of what you would expect.
Tezuka’s Barbara is screening during Fantasia Festival 2020.
Tezuka’s Barbara is a faithful adaptation of the original source and that’s because elements were updated with reverence…Now, this isn’t a perfect film, and for those who shy away from tragic romances with obsessed successful men and their muses, this offers much of what you would expect.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.