Title: The Crimson Kimono
Language: English, Japanese
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Director/Writer: Samuel Fuller
Music: Harry Sukman
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Against Hollywood’s mainstream value, Samuel Fuller’s vintage L.A. murder mystery gallantly sets off a love triangle where a Caucasian woman falls for an Asian man in lieu of the latter’s Caucasian friend, but the nisei has his own battle to fight, concerning the congenital racial bias stigmatized Japanese-American in the wake of WWII.
Yes, first of all, there is a murder, a burlesque stripper Sugar Torch (Pall) is gunned down on the main street in the Little Tokyo district, and two detectives Joe Kojaku (Shigeta) and Charlie Bancroft (Corbett) are investigating the case, they are Korean war veterans and best friends, even sharing a snug apartment, their police procedural pans out a bit languorously, but Fuller profiles the enclave’s ethnographic traits with a wandering eye, while the meat of the story is concerned with a key witness, Christine “Chris” Downes (Shaw), who paints the portrait of Sugar Torch dressed in a crimson kimono for the preparation of a Japanese-themed act (one can only imagine what technicolor would do justice to the chromatic appeal here).
When her own life is in peril after drawing an identikit of the possible killer, Joe and Charlie invite Chris to stay in their apartment, naturally both bachelors become besotted with her, but it is the interracial romance gains an upper hand (Joe is the more refined, sensitive and art-savvy one), which leaves Joe clammed up in a state of guilt of betraying his best friend, as he knows Charlie reckons Chris as the girl of his dreams, and when the truth finally comes out, Joe’s inborn inferiority complex reaches a boiling point, moreover, let’s not forget a heartless killer is still at large (although a whodunit’s allure has seismically eclipsed by a torrid love triangle at that stage), and Fuller fabricates an analogous tie-in between the killer and Joe, which rounds off the story adequately during the annual Japanese pageant in the Little Tokyo.
A fly in the ointment is that Fuller insensitively shoves the moral ambiguity to Chris, being the one who is courted by both men, she doesn’t refuse Charlie’s advance in the first place and acquits herself as if she has no qualm of reciprocating Joe’s feelings, then, even egregiously acts oblivious of the fact that it is her deeds drive a wedge between them, and isn’t it up to her to clear the air? Of course, such action isn’t allowed in Fuller’s script. Consequently, audience will find more relish in a Bourbon-tippled Anna Lee, whose worldly counsel including “Love does much, but Bourbon does everything!”.
A Golden Globe-winning Shigeta seizes upon this rare opportunity vested by this groundbreaking treatment of racial minority and the lingering, deleterious fallout of WWII afflicting on the next generation, thus, breaks the glass ceiling as an Asian leading actor, with his palpitating affection and disarming demeanor, in Fuller’s off-the-radar metteur en scène.