BR: Crimson Kimono, The (1959)

August 9, 2017 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  July, 2017

Genre:  Film Noir / Crime

Synopsis: The tight friendship between two detectives is almost torn apart by a sexy murder witness and killer wandering the environs of Little Tokyo.

Special Features: Isolated Mono Music Track / Two 2009 Featurettes: “Sam Fuller: Storyteller” (24:13) + “Curtis Hanson: The Culture of The Crimson Kimono” (9:22) /  3 Theatrical Trailers / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




During the 1950s Sam Fuller managed to put his stylistic and idiosyncratic imprimatur on pictures for the major studios, often in big gorgeous CinemaScope productions for Fox (Hell and High Water, the Japan-shot House of Bamboo), but the succession of almost yearly films became a trickle, ultimately forcing the writer-producer-director and once in a blue moon actor to TV and later Europe, but in 1959 Fuller produced a pair of back-to-back films, Verboten! set in postwar Germany, and The Crimson Kimono, where he revisited Japanese culture after it had migrated to Los Angeles and settled into a tight community.

Kimono is a remarkable film that encapsulates all of Fuller’s rule-breaking storytelling and bag of technical tricks, and features a rare leading role for an Asian actor. Seemingly plucked from obscurity, James Shigeta is Det. Kojaku, a Korean War vet who shares a pad with his war buddy and soul brother Det. Bancroft (Glenn Corbett). They don’t need dames, vacations, or friends, because they’ve got each other and walls filled with wartime honors and memorabilia to feel all fuzzy & warm, and Fuller’s rock solid bromance becomes threatened when the devotion of a witness they’re protecting in a murder mystery realigns her heartbeats from Bancroft to Kojaku, setting off an identity crisis within the latter that’s forced by internal fears than external encounters with racism.

For a Fuller film, the mid-film romance between pretty Christine (Victoria Shaw) and Kojaku has some genuine tender moments, quite atypical for a director who nevertheless starts off his films with an explosive scene. After a Main Title sequence and location titles that zoom towards us like tabloid banners, massive close-ups of a grinning burlesque dancer fill the screen, supported only by bawdy music. Soon after the dance a gialloesque cloaked & gloved killer fires at the temptress, and after running and jiggling into street traffic, she’s gunned down in cold blood.

Anna Lee, best known for playing General Hospital’s wise but even tempered matriarch Lila Quartermaine from 1978-2003, plays a boozing, discretely self-loathing painter who’s perfectly content being blotto most of the time, extolling wisdom to cops and burgeoning artists like Christine. It’s one her best roles and must have been one of her favourites, playing an eccentric bigmouth who starts the day with a can of wine stirred with a paintbrush, and adds splashes of wine to her canvases without caring for the tenants below (who must surely loathe the boozy leakage coming through the floor boards).

Fuller’s story does make sense – it’s ostensibly a murder mystery with giallo elements, including leaving the killer’s identity to the very end – but not unlike Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953), this is a perfectly cut, shot, written, acted, and directed entry, goosed with Fuller’s own loony sensibilities. Edits range from smash cuts and jump cuts to razor-sharp leaps as two characters in different locales are joined as they’re performing the same action. Much of the story leaps with the power of a sword slash, and Fuller’s camera is constantly moving, sometimes behind objects and breaking the third wall.

Woven between chases on foot and maneuverings through gritty bits of Little Tokyo are slices of Japanese-American culture, including a pivotal kendo match, and casting Asian actors in Asian parts, making Kimono a refreshing correction for Hollywood’s use of makeup on white actors for pivotal primary and secondary roles, and stuffing Asian actors in the background. Kojaku’s also an equal to Charlie, and is held in high respect by the department.

The big mystery of who killed the dancer and why holds up to the end, and the finale has the two men plus the girl tracking the killer through a street parade at night. While the end scene could be read as positive, it’s clear Kojaku’s buddy-buddy relationship with Bancroft is severely damaged, and their partnership on the force may well be over.

Twilight Time’s disc sports a fine transfer that flatters Sam Leavitt’s striking cinematography but also reveals some of Fuller’s weird shots. In Anna Lee’s first scene as blowhard Mac, there’s a cut to a closer shot that’s really a blow-up of the same footage, plus extra grain and contrast – perhaps a sign Fuller was tight on time, and in the end felt he needed to cheat a little to get an extra albeit contrived close-up.

Harry Sukman’s score is isolated on a separate mono track, and Julie Kirgo’s booklet fills in some spots not covered in the bonus interviews from Sony’s 2009 DVD set The Sam Fuller Collection, with Fuller’s widow Christa, daughter Samantha, and filmmakers Curtis Hanson and Tim Robbins. Not unlike Robert Fischer’s feature-length doc that accompanied Olive’s release of Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1972), there’s discussions of Fuller’s early years as a crime reporter, WWII cameraman, his themes and style, and where Kimono fits within his career as a rule-breaker. Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964) would soon follow, but Kimono serves as a portent of the stylistic risks he’d take with film techniques and storytelling.

James Shigeta never evolved into a star with lengthy staying power but for a film career debut, this was a great springboard that was followed by major roles in Bridge to the Sun (1961), Flower Drum Song (1961), the ill-fated Lost Horizon (1973), and The Yakuza (1974).  Glenn Corbett’s film debut was followed by the cult film Homicidal (1961), a slew of TV work, supporting roles in westerns, and reteaming with Fuller in Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1972).

Victoria Shaw may have looked a bit too old to be a struggling artist in university, but it’s a decent role in a fairly brief film career that includes The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), Edge of Eternity (1959), and Westworld (1973).

TT’s separate releases of Kimono and Underworld and featured isolated music tracks, whereas Indicator’s 2018 Blu-ray version of the Sony set lacks these features, but includes extras from the set as well as new material. Samuel Fuller at Columbia: 1937-1961 includes the Fuller-scripted It Happened in Hollywood (1937), Advebture in Sahara (1938), Power of the Press (1943), Scandal Sheet (1952), The Crimson Kimono (1959), and Underworld U.S.A. (1961).



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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