The Crimson Kimono

The Crimson Kimono ★★★½

Pea Brain: You call this noir? It’s a dopey police procedural, lacking in tension and style, with a last-second revelation that makes absolutely no sense. For my money, this is the weakest entry in Criterion Channel’s Columbia Noir series.

Normal Brain: Look, the whodunnit is a let down, but it’s a fascinating historical document on representation. How many movies of that era feature an Asian-American co-lead? How many explore the “just how American are you” question at the root of discriminatory practices against us/this group? How many pictures even now spend any time delving into Nisei life and the way Japanese-Americans straddle two worlds? Yes, the politics are dated, leaning into color-blindness while concluding, patronizingly, that people of color are too eager to perceive innocent gestures by white allies as racist. And while Sam Fuller’s heart’s in the right place, packing the film with details of Japanese-American war heroism feels like special pleading. All that said, it’s a flawed movie that has a special place in the Asian-American canon.

Super Brain: Screw themes and representation, man. Fuller’s termite art is found in the gestures and the margins of the frame. For all the speechifying about Nisei double-consciousness, Joe’s humanity truly comes across when he’s casually munching on an apple while interrogating a witness. And the cultural tourism of the doll-factory and the kendo tournament aside, Fuller’s Little Tokyo is mostly vividly seen through economical establishing shots and attention to background and locations like (pre-mall) Weller Court, the Japanese diner Joe frequents, and the rice-cake kitchen. Crimson Kimono is ultimately too preachy to count as prime Fuller, but his fingerprints are all over it.

Galaxy Brain: Guys, an actual Asian man--not Richard Barthelmess or Nils Asther in yellowface-- got to make out with a white woman. In an American film. In 1959.