The Crimson Kimono
Cast & Crew
One night, in the Los Angeles' Little Tokyo neighborhood, a stripper named Sugar Torch is shot and killed. While examining the Japanese art that adorns the dancer's dressing room, homicide detectives Charlie Bancroft and Joe Kojaku learn that she had been developing a new act. In the narrative paintings, Sugar is dressed as a geisha, and she and her Japanese lover are killed onstage by a jealous karate expert. Joe, who knows everyone in Little Tokyo, questions local kendo and karate practitioners about the identity of the male characters in the new act, while Charlie seeks out Christine Downes, the artist who painted the portrait of Sugar in her kimono. Back at the apartment they share, Joe confesses to Charlie that because his girl friend was reared in Japan and he in the United States, they argue about the "old country" constantly. Later Charlie questions Chris, an art student at the University of Southern California, about the man who commissioned Sugar's portrait, Mr. Hansel. As Chris sketches Hansel's portrait, Charlie flirts with her, and she smiles. Joe discovers from two nuns that a formidable Korean man named Shuto, who was to be the karate expert in the striptease act, knows his old friend, Mr. Yoshinaga. Joe finds the kindly Yoshinaga in the local Buddhist temple, where he has come to observe the anniversary of his son's death. After the private ceremony, he leads Joe through Little Tokyo to the Koga Rice Cake Co. Shuto, who works at the factory, panics when he sees the detective, and Joe loses sight of him during the ensuing chase. Charlie's friend Mac, an eccentric but endearing artist who lives on Skid Row, worries that because Chris's sketch of Hansel has now been broadcast on television, the criminal might try to kill her. As feared, someone takes a shot at Chris that night. For her protection, she moves in with Charlie and Joe, and when fear causes her to burst into tears, Charlie kisses her. Later, Charlie and Joe visit Roma, a wigmaker, who knows Hansel, but she provides little information. They then learn that Hansel has just left his position as an Asian specialist at the public library, where he was known by his real name, Paul Sand. That evening, Joe and Chris realize while talking together that they are deeply in love. Afraid of hurting Charlie, Joe resolves to hide his feelings from his friend, but becomes sullen and uncommunicative. Worried by Joe's moodiness, Charlie fears that Chris may have inadvertently expressed prejudice toward Joe, and this concern causes Chris to realize the depth of the men's friendship. Joe and Charlie face off in the Nisei Week kendo demonstration, and Joe surprises everyone by attacking his friend mercilessly. Later, Joe confesses his love for Chris. When Charlie looks up and gravely asks Joe if he intends to marry Chris, Joe assumes that his friend's anger is based on racism and is devasted. After expressing his confusion to Chris, Joe packs his bags, resigns from the force, and prepares to leave town. Chris and Charlie try to persuade him that neither of them feels anything but love for him, but Joe cannot believe this. As Chris is speaking, she suddenly sees Hansel. When Charlie and Joe corner him, Hansel claims that as an Asian specialist, he only meant to advise Sugar Torch on her act. When they ask Hansel why he shot the stripper, Roma appears and takes a shot at Charlie. Joe pursues her through the Nisei Week parade and is finally forced to shoot her. As they await the ambulance, the distressed woman admits it was she who killed Sugar. Having assumed that Hansel preferred the stripper to her, the wigmaker killed her rival, but later realized there was nothing between the two. Joe takes this in and immediately turns and apologizes to Charlie. As the friends reconcile, Chris runs into Joe's arms and they kiss.
Reverend Ryosho S. Sogabe
James A. Crowe
William E. Flannery
The Crimson Kimono
Two LAPD cops, Charlie (Glenn Corbett) and Joe (James Shigeta), are assigned to investigate the murder of a stripper. They're old war buddies, but in the course of their detective work they fall for the same woman, Christine (Victoria Shaw). When Christine responds more to Joe's gentleness than to Charlie's macho personality, Charlie becomes angry and jealous. Joe, a Japanese-American (or Nisei), takes his friend's jealousy to be racism, sorely testing their relationship.
In his posthumously published memoir A Third Face, Fuller recounted how Columbia Pictures chief Sam Briskin was concerned by the racial aspects of the story. Briskin wanted the Charlie character to be more of a "sonofabitch." Fuller resisted: "The girl chooses the Japanese guy because he's the man for her, not because the white guy's a sonofabitch. The whole idea of my picture is that both men are good cops and good citizens. The girl just happens to fall in love with the Nisei. They've got chemistry."
"That's gonna be hard for average American audiences to swallow, Sam. Can't you make the white guy a little bit of a sonofabitch?"
In the end, Fuller got his way. As he wrote in the memoir, "I was trying to make an unconventionally triangular love story, laced with reverse racism, a kind of narrow-mindedness that's just as deplorable as outright bigotry. I wanted to show that whites aren't the only ones susceptible to racist thoughts."
There are two particularly striking scenes in The Crimson Kimono. The first is the opening, in which the stripper runs half-naked out into the street and is shot dead. Fuller filmed it on an actual downtown L.A. location with real passers-by and cars all around, and later called it "the most difficult and dangerous scene I've ever shot." In an interview with author Lee Server, he recounted the drama of making this sequence:
"I had the cameras hidden [in a truck, a car and on a rooftop] so I could get the real reaction of people seeing an almost naked girl running down Sixth and Main Street. And most of the people she passed didn't even turn around. I wanted her to fall...right in the middle of all the traffic passing. This was real traffic, except that I had father and daughter stunt drivers who would know this naked girl would run in front and be shot. It's real traffic, but it's timed, they're in the lead. So we did it, hidden cameras, and I shot my gun into the sky and she falls. And as soon as we got it we bundled her into the car and took off. And then the s--- hit the fan. A lot of people heard the shot, saw the girl fall, and they called the cops. And the cops came and they're looking for the body of this big stripper. I still had to get a close shot and we couldn't go back there for hours, until the cops cleared off. "
The other memorable sequence is the riveting kendo match between the two cops in which they allow their emotions to dominate. Joe basically goes too far and attacks Charlie mercilessly. Fuller considered this scene one of the most important in the picture, recalling, "I wanted to get the kendo scene right because that sword fight sends an emotional message about Joe that's essential to my yarn. When Joe blows his stack and tries to beat up Charlie during the exhibition, he transgresses the protocol of a discipline whose basic rules have been developed over the last two thousand years of Japanese culture. He strikes out at his best friend and at the basic mores of his people. A person that far overboard is in terrible pain. Joe goes off the deep end and may never regain his balance. I wanted to show that the violence was directed as much at himself as at his buddy."
In an interview with Eric Sherman, Fuller also discussed how he established contrast through music during the story's climactic chase through Little Tokyo. "Several bands are in the celebration at the end," Fuller said. "One plays classical music, one plays Japanese music, one plays hot music, and so on. Whenever I cut from the killer to the pursuer, the music changed. That gave me the discordant and chaotic note I wanted."
Inevitably, the studio did not "get" what Fuller was trying to do or say with the movie, and The Crimson Kimono was, as Fuller put it, "released as just another Hollywood 'B' exploitation picture," with lurid poster taglines like "WHY DOES SHE CHOOSE A JAPANESE LOVER?"
While Fuller very much liked The Crimson Kimono, he took a nuanced view: "One film never really gives me complete satisfaction. Nor should it. All creative people must learn how to deal with the imperfect and the incomplete. There is no end in art. Every accomplishment is the dawn of the next challenge."
A final note: Only Sam Fuller could have convinced lovely Anna Lee (one of the few "names" in the cast) "to conceal her beauty and femininity" by playing a character named Mac, a "cigar-chomping female muralist on Skid Row" who says memorably, "Love is like a battlefield. Somebody has to get a bloody nose."
by Jeremy Arnold
Samuel Fuller, A Third Face
Eric Sherman and Martin Rubin, The Director's Event
Lee Server, Sam Fuller: Film Is a Battleground
The Crimson Kimono
The film's working title was The White Kimono. Although Hollywood Reporter news items list Stanley Mute, Hatashati, Frank Kumagai and Jim Teizo in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. The Crimson Kimono marked the film debut of Japanese-American actor James Shigeta and the first in a four-picture production deal between Samuel Fuller's Globe Enterprises, Inc. and Columbia Pictures Corp. Much of the picture was filmed in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, according to reviews and Hollywood Reporter news items.
The Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest reviewer remarked about the film, "For the first time, an American film tells a story in which a Japanese boy wins the white girl....Shigeta's clean cut appearance will temper the shock of the fadeout kiss and the ultimate Japanese boy-American girl relationship." The Variety reviewer was not pleased with the picture. "Although Fuller's attempts to probe racial prejudice were undoubtedly motivated by a worthy desire, it doesn't work out very well...the racial tolerance plea gets cheapened by its inclusion in a film of otherwise straight action."
Released in United States 1998
Released in United States Fall October 1959
Released in United States July 1991
Shown at Avignon/New York Film Festival (Fuller Tribute) in New York City (French Institute) April 24 - May 3, 1998.
Completed shooting March 10, 1959.
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Avignon/New York Film Festival (Fuller Tribute) in New York City (French Institute) April 24 - May 3, 1998.)
Released in United States July 1991 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum: Sam Fuller Retrospective) July 21 & 22, 1991.)
Released in United States Fall October 1959