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THE CRIMSON KIMONO (1959 ) BLU-RAY REVIEW

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Stars – James Shigeta, Glenn Corbett, Anna Lee, Victoria Shaw
Director – Samuel Fuller * Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com

Sam Fuller takes on a lot with this movie. There is the story of a stripper who gets shot down on the streets. She is in her full stage costume running between cars at night when she falls. We learn a lot about Sugar Torch and the act she was working on with a karate man smashing bricks before she begins to peel off her geisha styled kimono. Then there are the two cops assigned to the case, played wonderfully by James Shigeta (Bridge to the Sun) and Glenn Corbett (Route 66, Chisum), These detectives are very tight. The easy going banter between them feels like any number of later day buddy cop pictures. Shigeta in particular has a very natural style. Another character is the alcoholic painter who likes to throw beer on her paintings. Though very kooky she’s like the wise older relative to Corbett who gets advice from her. While there are compelling trips inside Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and quite a bit of time devoted to aspects of the culture there it is Victoria Shaw as Chris the attractive art student witness that sets the film on its main course.

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Both detectives fall for Chris but she falls for James Shigeta. Shigeta has a very tough time with this. He thinks his partner resents him but more for his love crossing a taboo racial line than simply winning the girl. Fuller drills down on this deep seated case of reverse racism. We can feel that the Japanese detective is uncomfortable with this from any number of angles. It certainly was not the kind of thing that movies openly dealt with then. Fuller was always one to confront racism and injustice. The theme of people mistakenly judging others frequently comes up in his films. There was the hooker trying to start her life anew in The Naked Kiss (1964). His film White Dog (1982) which dealt with a dog that was taught to attack black people was left unreleased for many years due to a misinformed backlash from groups that judged it without even seeing it. Sam Fuller also will pick up a blow torch to make his point when a match would have gotten the job done. Sometimes he makes his points with a sledgehammer swinging it like Thor against injustice. While the spirit is admirable it sometimes mars the flow of his films and sticks out a bit too much. On the other hand that is who he is, like it or not.

For a film that seems to only have a few interiors there is a tremendous amount of detail to be seen. There is an intriguing collection of porcelain figures in the detectives’ shared apartment. Later on in the film we see dozens of these intricately made dolls encased in glass cases filling a set. We even see how they are made and the woman who specializes in wigs for them. Fuller takes us inside a few dojo to see men practicing judo and karate. There are posters in these schools and in the detectives’ apartment advertising various kendo tournaments. One of the highlights in the film is the kendo fencing match between the two detectives. It is highly ritualized match that gets out of hand when one of them begins to actually attack the other. What at first looks like a shocking clash of cultures and races between a white man and Japanese man turns out to be two very good friends getting so far beyond words that only combat can express what one of them feels. It’s a powerful scene and the one in which everything in the film comes together.

The Crimson Kimono works on a lot of levels. It begins as a Noir-ish tale of a stripper being killed on the street but it ends with another woman being killed on the same street, and by then it has become several others kinds of pictures. Too much? Probably. But amidst the immersion in the Japanese culture hidden in Little Tokyo Sam Fuller mangers to get in a story about two buddies whose friendship is tested by a kind of racism that cuts deep.

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Video – 1.85:1
Much of this black and white picture looks wonderful. The way the painting fills in during the opening credits is a delight. There are occasional bits that fall short but nothing at all that stands in the way. Fuller does some interesting compositions that will leave wanting to hit the pause button for a sustained look. As noted by Curtis Hanson in the extras he moves his camera more than you might notice at first. There is one bit where the cameraman backs into a restaurant or hotel allowing the actors to move from the street to the interior in one continuous take.

Audio – DTS-HD 1.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue sounds fine and is easy to follow.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated music track , Sam Fuller Storyteller, Curtis Hanson: The Culture of The Crimson Kimono ,Original trailer

The extras are ported over from the Samuel Fuller Collection DVD set. Curtis Hanson who saw Fuller regularly at one time reveals some fun interactions that show off what a great storyteller Fuller was. We get a good sense of his background, too. Both of these extras are top notch and must see.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent

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