As part of its 10-year anniversary celebration, the Little Tokyo Historical Society will screen the noir classic “The Crimson Kimono” (1959) on Sunday, May 15, at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo.
Two short films will screen afterwards: “Cruising J-Town” and “What Is Little Tokyo?” A panel presentation on the state of Little Tokyo today and a light reception will follow.
Filmed on location in Little Tokyo, “The Crimson Kimono” stars James Shigeta and Glenn Corbett as LAPD detectives investigating the murder of a stripper while Victoria Shaw’s character becomes the love interest of the two officers.
Little Tokyo perhaps has never been more distinctively displayed on the big screen as the 1959 Nisei Week Japanese Festival serves the backdrop for the mystery. Unfamiliar exotica for the audience, such as kendo, doll-making and the Nisei Week Parade play an integral part of the story.
Koyasan Buddhist Temple serves as backdrop for many scenes as well as Maryknoll, Parker Center and the former Weller Street. The cast includes the late Rafu Shimpo columnist George Yoshinaga as well as Aya Oyama, George Okamura, Ryosho S. Sogabe and Bob Okazaki.
Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Restoration Foundation, an expert on Fuller’s works, described “The Crimson Kimono” as one of the director’s most distinctive films. “An urban murder mystery highlighted by a love triangle involving a Japanese American and a Caucasian American woman simply was not done in Hollywood during the 1950s … It was only 14 years after the end of World War II. Fuller absolutely loathed the reflexive societal racism that permeated the fabric of everyday life in America back then … So he employed racism as a thematic motif for the picture, but he did it in a way that no one really expected…
“Even the critics that liked the movie weighed in, with one of them writing that star James Shigeta’s ‘clean-cut look’ dissipated the shock of watching him kiss co-star Victoria Shaw.”
The Hawaiian-born Shigeta, a Korean War veteran in real life, became a successful nightclub singer in Japan, where he learned to speak Japanese. His career as an entertainer in the U.S. was launched by an appearance on “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.” Both he and Corbett, who was an actor while attending college in Los Angeles, made their film debut in “The Crimson Kimono” and Shigeta shared the 1960 Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer with actors George Hamilton, Troy Donahue and Barry Coe.
Visual Communications, the National Japanese American Historical Society, and the Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council are co-sponsors of the screening.