The Crimson Kimono

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The Crimson Kimono
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySamuel Fuller
Screenplay bySamuel Fuller
Produced bySamuel Fuller
StarringVictoria Shaw
Glenn Corbett
James Shigeta
CinematographySam Leavitt
Edited byJerome Thoms
Music byHarry Sukman
Globe Enterprises
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 21, 1959 (1959-10-21)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Crimson Kimono is a 1959 American crime film noir drama starring James Shigeta, Glenn Corbett and Victoria Shaw.[1] Directed by Samuel Fuller, it featured several ahead-of-its-time ideas about race and society's perception of race, a thematic and stylistic trademark of Fuller.[citation needed]


Sugar Torch, a stripper who headlines a show in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles, is returning backstage after her act when she is ambushed in her dressing room by an assailant with a gun. She flees and runs out onto the street in a state of undress before succumbing to a mortal gunshot wound. Police detectives Joe Kojaku and Charlie Bancroft, partners and bachelors who share an apartment, are assigned to the case. They find a portrait in the dressing room of Sugar dressed in a kimono as a geisha, apparently preparing a Japanese-themed act.

Joe and Charlie lead the police search for the man who had been helping Sugar develop her act. They interview student artist Christine Downes, better known as Chris, who draws a sketch of the man for them. With her aid, they track down Hansel, the man who did the portrait of the Sugar, and a wigmaker, Roma, who was to provide the wig for the stage act. Charlie begins to develop a romantic attraction to Chris.

Joe worries for Christine's safety, fearing that her sketch of the suspect being broadcast on television could result in the killer also targeting her. When his suspicions prove correct and an attempt is made on Chris's life at the dormitory where she lives, Joe and Charlie bring her to stay in their apartment for her safety. Joe, too, begins to fall for Christine, and she returns his feelings. However, Joe is tormented by the conflict between his deep friendship with Charlie and his feelings for the girl he knows Charlie to be in love with. When Joe aggressively attacks Charlie during a kendo competition, following a frank conversation about Chris, Charlie's facial reaction makes Joe believe that he resents the interracial nature of the relationship. Joe decides to quit the force, disillusioned after having felt for so long that his partner was free of this kind of racial bias. Charlie confronts Joe, telling him that the look he saw on his face was a flash of hatred rooted in the envy and betrayal he felt over Chris's love for Joe, and not born of racism, but Joe doesn't believe him.

Though Joe and Charlie had assumed Hansel to be the one who shot Sugar and attacked Chris, the culprit turns out to be Roma, who considered Sugar a threat to her relationship with Hansel because she misinterpreted a look on his face while he was watching Sugar's burlesque show. Joe relates this to Charlie and realizes that just as Roma saw what she wanted to in Hansel's face, Joe projected his own struggles with racism onto Charlie. After Roma's arrest, Joe asks Charlie if they can still be partners. He replies with a no, citing his irreconcilable feelings about Joe and Chris's relationship, but adding that he is, nevertheless, glad that Joe has "wrapped up his own case". Chris arrives, and she and Joe kiss in the middle of a Little Tokyo parade.



Fuller was acquainted with a Nisei that worked for the LAPD as a detective, who became the basis of the Joe character. Columbia Studio president Harry Cohn approved distribution of the film although he earlier told Fuller he did not believe that average Americans would be receptive to its interracial theme when Fuller proposed making it.[2]


The Academy Film Archive preserved The Crimson Kimono in 1998.[3]


Variety magazine gave a lukewarm at best review of the film at the time of its release: "The mystery melodrama part of the film gets lost during the complicated romance, and the racial tolerance plea is cheapened by its inclusion in a film of otherwise straight action...The three principals bring credibility to their roles, not too easy during moments when belief is stretched considerably. Anna Lee, Paul Dubov, Jaclynne Green and Neyle Morrow are prominent in the supporting cast."[4]

In 1997 The BFI Companion to Crime described the film as "One of Fuller's most striking melodramas".[5]

In 2006 Ed Gonzales of Slant Magazine liked the film and wrote, "The opening is a triumph of grungy lyricism achieved through snaky cutting and blunt compositions: Sugar Torch (Gloria Pall), a stripper, is shot to death in the middle of a Los Angeles street after witnessing a murder inside her dressing room. The tenor of the film oscillates between tight-fisted noir and chamber drama, but the theme is always the same: cultural and romantic unrest. ... Fuller's feat is giving the film's nonstop interrogations, meetings and confrontations profound racial and political meaning."[6]

In 2007 Philip W. Chung of Asian Week wrote that the white woman choosing an Asian man as a romantic partner is "What was most revolutionary about the film in 1959 Hollywood", something that was, "sadly, still revolutionary today."[2]

In 2007 Gina Marchetti argued in Romance and the "Yellow Peril" in 2007 that the film portrays racism as only existing "in the deluded minds of its victim."[2]

The critics of Time Out magazine wrote[when?] of "Fuller developing his theme of urban alienation: landscape, culture and sexual confusion are all juxtaposed, forcing the Japanese-born detective (who, along with his buddy, is on the hunt for a burlesque queen murderer) into a nightmare of isolation and jealousy. Some fine set pieces - like the disciplined Kendo fight that degenerates into sadistic anarchy - and thoughtful camera-work serve to illustrate Fuller's gift for weaving a poetic nihilism out of his journalistic vision of urban crime."[7]

In 2016 Robert Miklitsch wrote that the film’s interracial relationships are compared to paintings using two different colors, a trope.[8]

The film scored a rating of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 15 reviews through 2014.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Crimson Kimono at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata.
  2. ^ a b c Chung, Philip W. (2007-08-24). "Lost Classics: 'The Crimson Kimono'". Asian Week. Archived from the original on 2007-11-20. Retrieved 2020-06-19.
  3. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive. Archived from the original on 2016-08-15. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  4. ^ "Review: The Crimson Komono". Variety. December 31, 1958. Archived from the original on August 4, 2020. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  5. ^ Hardy, Phil, ed. (1997-01-01). The BFI Companion to Crime. A&C Black. p. 96. ISBN 9780304332151.
  6. ^ Gonzales, Ed (May 5, 2006). "B Noir". Slant Magazine. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  7. ^ "The Crimson Kimono". Time Out London. Archived from the original on 26 March 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2014.[dead link]
  8. ^ Miklitsch, Robert (2016-12-07). The Red and the Black: American Film Noir in the 1950s. University of Illinois Press. p. PT272. ISBN 9780252099120.
  9. ^ "The Crimson Kimono". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on March 26, 2014. Retrieved March 25, 2014.

External links[edit]