The Crimson Kimono (1959) is another sensationalistic and deliciously exploitative cop noir from the great Sam Fuller. As usual, Fuller has the guts to break ground, this time with a Japanese-American leading man (James Shigeta) and an inter-racial romance. Always looking to add even more shock value, Fuller threw in a stripper murder victim.
Shigeta, who died in 2014 at age 85, was a fixture on mainstream television series, accounting for many of his 88 screen credits. But his first movie role was in The Crimson Kimono. The groundbreaking aspect of The Crimson Kimono is that Fuller’s writing and Shigeta’s performance normalized the Japanese-American character. Shigeta’s Detective Joe Kojaku is a regular hardboiled, jaded and troubled film noir protagonist. Other than his inside knowledge of the Japanese community, there isn’t anything exotic or “foreign” about him – as you can see in the clip below.
Of course, Fuller certainly relished the fact that many 1959 Americans would have been unsettled by a Japanese-American man’s intimate encounter with a white woman – another groundbreaking moment in American cinema.
Interestingly, the American-born Shigeta , a Korean War vet, became a singing sensation in 1950s Japan before launching his US acting career.
The Crimson Kimono is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video; it also plays occasionally on Turner Classic Movies.