James Shigeta as Joe Kojaku, LAPD homicide detective
Los Angeles, Summer 1959
Film: The Crimson Kimono
Release Date: October 1959
Director: Samuel Fuller
Costume Supervisor: Bernice Pontrelli
Are you among the many movie buffs who observe #Noirvember, the month-long celebration of shadowy cinema often set in worlds populated by gumshoes, gunsels, and femmes fatale. Defining film noir is often as murky as the outlines of the shadows in some of its seminal works, though even applying the infamous Potter Stewart rule yields at least dozens of crime dramas produced within and beyond the United States during the 1940s and ’50s.
Earlier this year, the Criterion Channel again showcased a collection of noir from Columbia Pictures, the erstwhile Poverty Row studio that churned out some of the most quintessential high-talent noir in including Gilda (1946), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), and In a Lonely Place (1950) as well as an array of criminally underseen B-movies that balanced their low budgets with high quality. One of my favorites from the collection was The Crimson Kimono (1959), directed by former crime reporter and World War II veteran Samuel Fuller.
Modern audiences may recognize James Shigeta as the patient and ultimately doomed Nakatomi executive in Die Hard. Here, a considerably younger Shigeta plays the charismatic Joe Kojaku, an apple-munching, piano-playing Japanese-American homicide detective called in with his partner Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett) to investigate the murder of burlesque dancer Sugar Torch (Gloria Pall) on L.A.’s” Main Street” one brightly lit, jazz-filled night in August 1959.
Shigeta slips easily into the role of a noir detective: easygoing but driven, sensitive and streetwise with plenty of unassuming toughness. As Joe, he shares an easy professional chemistry with Sergeant Bancroft dating back to their days sharing a foxhole during the Korean War. Closer than “two dabs of paint” according to the eccentric Mac (Anna Lee), the duo is now partnered in the LAPD’s Detective Bureau and share a swanky suite, recreationally fighting for crowds during the annual Nisei Week kendo match. However, the attentions of their latest charge—a romantic young artist named Christine Downes (Victoria Shaw) who painted Sugar Torch wearing that titular crimson kimono—threatens to fissure the friendship to a disastrous degree once a jealous Charlie becomes aware of Joe and Chris’ mutual attraction.
What’d He Wear?
James Shigeta cycles between three stylish outfits as Joe Kojaku: a dark checked sport jacket and two suits. (Hans Gruber would no doubt be disappointed to learn that none of his garments have been tailored by the fictional “John Phillips, London.”
The Bouclé-Checked Sports Coat
Joe’s sport jacket is detailed with a dark slubbed check threaded against a woolen twill ground. This period-popular technique resembles bouclé, a French-derived term for “ringlet” and defined in a sartorial context by the estimable Hardy Amies in ABC of Men’s Fashion as “a curled effect on the surface of a cloth, produced by drawing out small loops in the threads.”
The single-breasted jacket has the narrow lapels that would become increasingly fashionably through the middle of the following decade, rolling to a three-button front. The jacket has a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, a single vent, and two vestigial buttons spaced slightly apart at the cuffs of each sleeve.
Joe tends to wear the same type of shirts, light-colored (but non-white) cotton with a spread button-down collar, plain “French placket”, breast pocket, and button-fastened barrel cuffs. With this outfit, he wears a tie striped in two low-contrast shades in a thin, balanced “uphill” direction, held in place with a tie bar.
His dark, high-rise trousers have reverse-facing pleats, side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms. He wears a dark leather belt with a rectangular single-prong buckle.
The Flannel Suit
Joe also has at least two flannel suits that he wears throughout The Crimson Kimono, despite the fact that this heavier cloth would no doubt be warm for an August stretch in Los Angeles. The suits are styled with single-breasted, three-button jackets that have wide shoulders, three-button cuffs and single vents. In addition to straight, jetted hip pockets, these jackets have a welted breast pocket where Joe wears a folded white cotton pocket square.
The suits’ matching trousers have double reverse-facing pleats “dropped” a few inches below the waistband, where Joe wears his usual dark leather belt with its rectangular single-prong buckle.
Joe wears his usual shirts with their wide-spread button-down collars with several different ties as this suit makes two different appearances. First, he wears a dark knitted straight tie with a flat bottom; for the film’s finale, he wears this suit with a striped tie similar to the one worn with his sports coat but with a more contrasting color scheme.
The Knitwear-Layered Dark Suit
Joe wears a similar suit made from darker flannel for another scene, again stretching climate credibility by layering the jacket over a unique low-fastening cardigan that closes at the waist with three buttons.
This waistcoat is knitted from a medium-colored wool with a shadowed dark stripe following the edges (from about a half-inch in) down the V-shaped opening to the ribbed, straight-cut waist hem. The two set-in pockets—one on each hip—are accented to match the front edges with a dark stripe shadowed just below it by a slightly lighter one.
Joe wears the same shoes with all of his outfits, a pair of dark leather split-toe derby shoes with dark socks.
On his right pinky, Shigeta wears a gold stone with a dark rectangular stone that appears to be the same one clearly seen on the album artwork for his 1961 release Scene One / We Speak the Same Language. He wears Joe’s watch on his left wrist.
What’s a noir detective without his .38 snub? Like his partner Sergeant Bancroft, Detective Kojaku carries and frequently draws his LAPD-issued Colt Detective Special revolver, carried in a cross-draw holster on the left side of his belt.
Colt introduced the Detective Special in 1927 as one of the first manufactured “belly guns”, designed to pack a powerful but easily concealed punch with six rounds of .38 Special ammunition packed in a cylinder behind the standard two-inch barrel. While the concept was already more than a half-century old, dating back to the powerful British Bulldog revolvers that appeared in the late 19th century, the Detective Special standardized a modern approach to the concept that would be mimicked by every major revolver manufacturer in the years to follow.
What to Imbibe
The eccentric artist Mac (Anna Lee) fixes Joe up with enough bourbon in his tea that he can’t stop coughing. While Mac’s concoction may just be a slapdash gag, she’s on the right track as hot water and whiskey is one of the oldest alcoholic concoctions, renowned for its soothing properties whether nursing a sore throat or spending a cozy night in. The hot toddy is arguably the most comforting and ultimately rewarding combination of hot water and spirits, characterized by the addition of some form of sugar.
In his painstakingly researched volume Imbibe!, David Wondrich retells the anecdote of a Scottish doctor who stated the best drink for health was a “toddy, mun. The spirit must have something to act on, and therefore acts on the sugar and does nae injury to the stomach.”
While the science of this long-gone but undoubtedly popular physician’s statement may be questionable, the hot toddy has been a mainstay of American drinking since the pre-revolutionary era with Wondrich tracing its debut in the printed form to a Boston newspaper in 1750. “The old days were hard, but the people who lived them found ways of making them tolerable,” writes Wondrich, who explores the base spirits of rum, whiskey (for frontiersmen), brandy (for the upper class), applejack (for New Jerseyans), mixed with hot water and a spoonful of sugar that indeed help the medicine go down.
By the mid-19th century, father of American mixology Jerry Thomas had included the hot toddy among his offerings in his inaugural 1862 bartender’s guide where he specifies a teaspoon of sugar, a half-wineglass of boiling water, and a full glass of spirits added in that order, stirred, and served with a spoon. By that time, the “Whisky Skin” had also been pioneered, differentiated only by the addition of a lemon peel.
In the generations since, the mixology behind the toddy and the skin have become intertwined, with some suggesting that lemon is integral to a well-made hot toddy while yet others elect to use herbal tea rather than plain hot water. How to Cocktail by America’s Test Kitchen details the best example of these modernized recipes with five ounces of boiling water, an ounce and a half of brandy (or whiskey), a half-ounce of lemon juice, and a tablespoon of honey representing the sugared element, stirred together in a warmed mug and garnished with a lemon slice and—should one be so inclined—a cinnamon stick.
Whether you like yours with brandy or whisky, water or tea, sugar or honey, I leave you with Wondrich’s endorsement: “Under the proper circumstances, a Hot Toddy—particularly one constructed upon a foundation of good Highland malt whisky—is one of the clearest signs I know that there is a providential plan to the universe.”
How to Get the Look
James Shigeta’s affable detective at the center of The Crimson Kimono has a sensible eye of fashion, his most notable outfit layering a low-slung cardigan with a dark flannel suit, button-down shirt, and knitted tie for a fall-friendly getup perhaps a bit unseasonably warm for a southern California summer but perfect for a mid-autumn day at the office.
- Dark flannel suit:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and single vent
- Double reverse-pleated high-rise trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Off-white cotton shirt with wide-spread button-down collar, plain front, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Dark knitted tie with flat bottom
- Medium-colored knit sleeveless cardigan with piped edges, set-in pockets, and low V-shaped opening with 3-button closure
- Dark leather split-toe derby shoes
- Dark socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
You can’t feel for me unless you are me!