Robert Mitchum as Harry Kilmer, tough former detective
Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan, Spring 1974
Film: The Yakuza
Release Date: December 28, 1974
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Fall is here in the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s my favorite season for the cooler weather, the changing leaves, and the increased sweaters, corduroys, and tweeds that make their way from the back of the closet back into regular rotation. These autumnal staples get some particularly badass exposure in Sydney Pollack’s 1974 Japanese-set neo-noir The Yakuza as a 57-year-old Robert Mitchum joins Ken Takakura as they fight their way through Honshu from Kyoto to Tokyo in a variety of natty turtlenecks layered under tweed jackets and corduroy suits.
Conceptualized by brothers Paul and Leonard Schrader, the plot brings grizzled detective Harry Kilmer (Mitchum) out of retirement to help rescue the daughter of his old friend George Tanner (Brian Keith) from her Yakuza kidnappers at a monastery. Joined by his protege, Dusty (Richard Jordan), the honorable Ken Tanaka (Takakura), Harry’s mission draws Yakuza blood and leads to this storied criminal group putting out a contract on the trio of rescuers.
What’d He Wear?
Even before we get into the corduroy, it has to be said that The Yakuza is a fantastic turtleneck movie, with Harry, Ken, and Dusty all sporting rollnecks of various colors, cloths, and weights. It’s Robert Mitchum as Harry Kilmer who makes the most of pairing it with corduroy as well, first dressing down an olive needlecord suit with a gray ribbed-knit rollneck and then leading the violent mission during the film’s climax with a tan parka over his black turtleneck.
In the midst of these adventures, we see Harry leading the expedition to rescue Tanner’s daughter, sporting a classic casual ’70s ensemble of a corduroy waist-length jacket zipped-up over a turtleneck, both in shades of brown.
Harry’s jacket is a thin-waled brown corduroy with a broad shirt-style collar that betrays its 1970s provenance. With about two inches of clearance from the waist hem, the jacket zips up the front with a silver-toned pull tab on a silver zipper. The set-in sleeves are undecorated at the cuffs, and there are two hand pockets with vertical openings. A curved seam extends out from each armpit and vertically down the front of each chest panel.
Most modern-made men’s corduroy zip-up blousons that I find online have a much wider-waled cord and/or the addition of chest pocket flaps that take us away from Robert Mitchum’s screen-worn jacket. Retailers like Banana Republic, Gap, H&M, J. Crew, Old Navy, and Target are more focused on corduroy trucker jackets. This lighter brown Topman option available from Nordstrom seems to be more inspired by a classic flight jacket (and not, as the description curiously suggests, a Harrington jacket), leaving the Volcom “domjohn” jacket from ASOS as a surprising candidate for shoppers seeking to emulate Mitchum. If you have a higher budget, Sunspel offers the “Men’s Wide Wale Corduroy Harrington Jacket” in dark camel (and navy) for $495, though the name is misleading as the style has far more in common with Mitchum’s jacket than a classic Harrington. The best item on the market—right down to the color—that I was able to find, as of September 2019, was obviously this ’70s-dated vintage piece by Cal Craft.
Less unique but hardly less memorable is Mitchum’s tan cashmere wool turtleneck jumper with its heavily ribbed neck, cuffs, and hem and slimmer ribbing through the body of the sweater.
Mitchum wears the turtleneck over a cream-colored undershirt with long sleeves that perform the double-duty of preventing the wool from making his arms itch and protecting the cashmere from absorbing sweat and body oils.
Early fall isn’t the easiest time to go turtleneck-shopping as most retailers are transitioning from summer with lighter-weight pullover sweaters and cardigans, though there’s an alpaca-blend turtleneck available on Amazon for only $38.99 (as of September 2019) with a similar ribbing detail and made from a similar dijon-tinted tan material as Mitchum’s sweater. For the price, it could be worth the uneven reviews to tide you over until more reputable retailers begin stocking their shelves with roll-necks for the cooler months ahead.
Apropos the military-inspired nature of their infiltration mission, Harry wears a pair of olive drab flat front trousers that look like they could be army surplus pants, worn with a dark brown leather belt with a large, semi-rounded single-prong buckle in polished gold-toned metal.
Harry’s olive trousers have frogmouth front pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms that only slightly flare over his brown leather raised-heel ankle boots.
The watch strapped to Harry’s left wrist is a stainless Rolex DateJust that was likely the personal property of Robert Mitchum, as he could be seen wearing the same wristwatch with its silver dial and steel “Jubilee”-style bracelet in some of his other movies from the decade, including The Big Sleep (1978). He occasionally wears peanut brown calf leather gloves.
A brief vignette of Harry traveling by train depicts him wearing the same jacket but with the trendier and more flamboyant underpinnings of a dark chocolate brown knit polo open at the neck with a brown, bronze, white, and red patterned silk scarf knotted over his throat.
In Tokyo, Harry Kilmer arms himself from the arsenal of his pal Oliver “Ollie” Wheat (Herb Edelman), chambering a blued steel .45 with the serial number crudely removed, then noting “I’ll need a .38 for Dusty.”
During this era, the .45 ACP blank round was unreliable so many productions—The Wild Bunch, The Getaway, and Three Days of the Condor to name a few—replaced .45-caliber 1911 pistols with cosmetically similar Star Model B pistols that fired the more universal and blank-reliable 9×19 mm Parabellum round. The Yakuza appears to be an exception as Mitchum seems to be fielding and firing a genuine M1911A1 throughout the movie.
The venerated M1911 pistol series dates back to shortly after the start of the 20th century when Colt beat out DWM and Savage with its winning entry for a new American service pistol chambered in .45 ACP. The single-action, recoil-operated semi-automatic pistol designed by John Browning was adopted by the U.S. Army in 1911, followed by the Navy and the Marine Corps over the next two years. Following its performance in World War I, several modifications—including a shorter trigger, arched mainspring housing, and longer grip safety spur—were introduced during the 1920s for what would be designated the M1911A1, which would serve all branches of the U.S. military for the next 60 years.
How to Get the Look
Robert Mitchum’s tough protagonist in The Yakuza incorporates the decade’s popular earth tone palette into his wardrobe of corduroy clothing and turtleneck sweaters with this comfortable casual outfit.
- Brown corduroy waist-length zip-up jacket with wide collar, vertical-opening hand pockets, and set-in sleeves with plain cuffs
- Tan cashmere wool turtleneck sweater with wide ribbed-knit rollneck, cuffs, and hem
- Cream-colored long-sleeved undershirt
- Olive drab flat front trousers with belt loops, frogmouth front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark brown leather belt with polished gold-toned rounded single-prong buckle
- Brown leather ankle boots with raised heels
- Brown leather gloves
- Rolex DateJust steel-cased wristwatch with silver dial and steel “Jubilee” bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Ken: “Doesn’t your side bother you?”
Harry: “Nah, it needed a little trimming anyway.”