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Monday, 31 July 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare pays his respects to THE CRIMSON KIMONO (USA, 1959) and the work of the master Samuel Fuller

Glenn Corbett, The Crimson Kimono
Glenn Corbett (Sgt Charlie) fondles his right breast during telephone pillow talk with Anna Lee - "Mac" the alcoholic oil painter and most recently painter of murdered stripper from the 'hood, Sugar Torch. In the second screen Victoria Shaw as Christine and James Shigeta (Detective Joe), Charlie's colleague, ex-Korean War comrade and best buddy, roommate and barely acknowledged bromance in Fuller's first major picture for Columbia in 1959 after leaving Fox, The Crimson Kimono.

Victoria Shaw, James Shigeta, The Crimson Kimono
Screens are from a gorgeous new Twilight Time Blu-ray taken from a mint 4K scan from Sony. The picture quality alone simply runs over the older Sony DVD which was plagued with a greenish chroma bug tint and lousy audio. This is a must buy for Fullerians, region free.

With the first screen Fuller very blatantly and consciously sexualizes Charlie in order to signal us to the high probability of a sexual - requited or unrequited - dimension to him and his colleague, Joe. A dimension still not permitted under pre-1960 Breen rules, and even after, when faggotry was generally relegated to "abnormal psychology" at best, and still usually is. The second screen also speaks to the budding new romance between Joe and "Christine" (Aussie actress Victoria Shaw.) But this turn of events cuts a deep path between the two previously inseparable men and provokes an even greater crisis for Japanese-American Joe which at the least parallels his "journey" into heterosexuality (if you do, as I do, read the boys' relationship as substantially homoerotic.) Joe begins to question his entire racial identity and undergoes something like Susan Kohners' crisis of self-hatred and internalized racism in Sirk's Imitation of Life from the same year. Indeed Kimono is as powerful a movie in terms of its presentation of internalized racism as Sirk's, especially as it is in a sense double weighted with the additional burden to Asian-Americans for whom choosing to "pass" as some light skinned black people like Kohner may do, is impossible.

So just as Joe falls into physical and psychological paralysis, Charlie picks up the reigns of the job and methodically covers the crime, revisiting the JapanTown areas of Los Angeles and Joe's old contacts shown earlier in the first act of the movie. The way Fuller continues to underline the power of this male "friendship", in which Charlie tirelessly and passionately works to sustain his relationship with Joe (or whatever else we may need to call it), is perhaps the most moving aspect of the film. Although the torment Joe reveals to Christine in several scenes (a wonderful performance also from Shaw) is a powerful case study of a young man about to leave emotional adolescence, if not also in a romantic relationship with his buddy that he can't acknowledge as he "changes" into a genuine but threatening heterosexual one.

I loved this movie from my first viewing decades ago, and although Fuller no longer has Scope to work with, a luxury from his Fox days and Zanuck's patronage, he makes more than most of the standard 1.85 widescreen frame. This movie and Verboten filmed the same year may well be the beginning of his punchier, more comic strip, newspaper banner highlight style which dominates his visual methods in the sixties. The opening sequence of Sugar Torch's number and her subsequent death on a crowded LA street are more like collisions of shots than any regular "montage". But then minutes later Fuller introduces Shigeta's character in a breathtaking exterior of a massive Japanese-American war heroes open air graveyard, Fuller opens the shot from a towering high position over the entire graveyard site and does a completely staggering downwards crane to the Caretaker and Buddhist priest, a real life Ryosho Sogabe, who turns forward to the camera and greets Joe. It is impossible not to vew the glorious shot from DP Sam Leavitt as a reverse replication of Mizoguchi's sublime last rising crane in Ugetsu Monogatari, in which the camera rises up above the child planting flowers at the grave of his mother, MIyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) to survey the ongoing life beneath it.

And it is precisely these almost unbelievably outrageous extremes of mise-en-scene and expression, both textually and visually that make Fuller such a totally unique auteur and a still very rare American voice in the movies.

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