Skirting Equality

There is empathy for Asian Americans in The Crimson Kimono, the story traveling through Little Tokyo. A wide shot pans down to a Korean war cemetery for Asian soldiers. In a Buddhist temple, a traditional Shinto ceremony is performed for the camera. More critically to Crimson Kimono, co-lead James Shigeta confronts racism as he falls for a Caucasian woman.

It’s odd though – Crimson Kimono begins with the murder of a burlesque performer. That’s the initial focus. An investigation via detective Shigeta and his partner Glenn Corbett leads them to an artist (Victoria Shaw); the two begin falling for her. Forget the murder. Now Crimson Kimono is a romance, with a violent street shooting acting as a catalyst. That’s not a typical Hollywood meet cute.

Being of the ‘50s, almost a decade removed Korea and 15 years or so from the Pacific front, Crimson Kimono lavishes attention on the “exoticism” of eastern culture. Some of that skirts stereotype – any Asian character knows Judo or karate. Little Tokyo becomes a central figure, treated for its foreign allure, but carefully so. Corbett speaks of his time in Korea, noting the fierceness and bravery he witnessed from Korean fighters.

Crimson Kimono wavers between concepts of social equality, ending at a muddied center

Note Crimson Kimono is not a daring film. It’s soft. Shigeta speaks about the racism and dirty looks he receives; none of it appears on screen though, just his resulting anxiety. In the final moments, the murder culprit apprehended, the script loosely suggests that Shigeta merely perceives hate. It’s all in his head, he’s told. That’s not an appropriate conclusion.

In another sense, that idea is speaking up for interracial marriage. That anything is wrong with a Japanese man and American woman loving each other is in Shigeta’s head. For a late ‘50s era production, that’s progressive in a sense, yet still locked to wartime thinking. Crimson Kimono wavers between these concepts of social equality, ending at a muddied center.

As for the murder, Crimson Kimono uses stirring, complex long takes to add authenticity to the investigation. Dark alleys, wet streets, and chain smoking check mark the noir playbook. So too does a jazzy, vintage score that evokes the ‘40s golden era. Certainly, the burlesque show and images of a half-dressed dancer (named “Sugar Torch”) running down the street were suggestive during the time. It’s enough discomfort to puritan vaues to add an edge. Then, the romance becomes “seedy” and challenging to morals. That’s Crimson Kimono’s true focus. A sleazy shooting was just a means to draw people to theaters.


Here’s the thing with Crimson Kimono: The number of chemical dissolves hammer this material, as do ugly optical zooms. Worse, long takes suffer their impact, including one that travels through an apartment at breakfast. The entire shot softens into mush. Nothing can fix that. It’s forever part of Crimson Kimono.

However, Mill Creek’s encode doesn’t help matters. Extensive banding and clumpy grain add to the mess. Even at peak sharpness, overall resolution sours. Minimal detail squeezes through. This master does not look recent, and encoding is, at best, insufficient.

The winning factor comes down to gray scale. Firm black levels create needed shadow density. A back alley conversation midway through shows the purest black. That’s highlighted well, securing appreciable depth. When allowed, Crimson Kimono pushes both extremes cleanly.


Wobbly, frail highs introduce themselves over the opening credits. Things get better with time. DTS-HD mono works in some wonderful lows, and brass sections maintain their fidelity.

Dialog renders well. No issues of balance between elements show up. Damage stays away so expect no hiss, static, or popping.



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The Crimson Kimono
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The Crimson Kimono deals with post-war racism through romance and murder with occasional success, but squanders the opportunity.

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