Sonatine: Ken’s Red Aloha Shirt

Susumu Terajima as Ken in Sonatine

Susumu Terajima as Ken in Sonatine (1993)


Susumu Terajima as Ken, laconic yakuza lieutenant

Ishigaki Island, Japan, Summer 1993

Film: Sonatine
(Japanese title: ソナチネ)
Release Date: September 10, 1993
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Costume Design: Junichi Goto & Alen Mikudo

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!


Takeshi Kitano wrote, directed, edited, and starred in Sonatine, an offbeat yakuza film that blends the genre’s usual violence with elements of black comedy and an almost surreal, dreamlike beauty. Kitano stars as Murakawa, a Tokyo crime boss who has grown increasingly numb as he advances into middle age.

Murakawa and his loyal right-hand man, Ken (Susumu Terajima), are sent to Okinawa with a gang ranging from veteran gangsters to young gunsels like the eager Ryōji (Masanobu Katsumura).

Before any progress can be made in their ostensible mission to mediate and intra-gang conflict, the body count rises after their headquarters are bombed and their number further diminished during a barroom ambush. Murakawa and his fellow survivors—including the increasingly convivial Ken and Ryōji—take refuge on the isolated beaches of Ishigaki Island, where their day-to-day life devolves into a surreally idyllic getaway full of games, gags, and gunplay.

What’d He Wear?

Ken’s boss Murakawa disdains loud fashions; accordant with his personality, Murakawa spends the movie dressed exclusively in white open-necked shirts with his businesslike slate double-breasted suit, even mocking the “lousy shirt” that one of their fellow tropically clad castaways wears during some beach games. However, Murakawa likely respects Ken too much to ridicule his sense of dress.

Even before the bar attack that led to the group lamming it, Ken was already dressed appropriately for an island getaway, having adopted a bright red floral-printed aloha shirt for his daily errands with Ryōji.

Susumu Terajima and Masanobu Katsumura in Sonatine

No need to look so envious, Ryōji… you’ll get your own snazzy floral shirt just like Ken’s sooner than you realize.

As suggested by their alternative “Hawaiian shirt” nomenclature, the modern aloha shirt had started appearing in Hawaii by the 1930s, perhaps originated by Honolulu-based shirtmaker Kōichirō Miyamoto, who had been making shirts with colorful Japanese prints, perhaps inspired by the open-necked palaka worn by Japanese migrant workers on Hawaiian plantations. Chinese merchant Ellery Chun had also started selling similarly patterned shirts from his Waikiki store during the same decade, and it was Chun who likely coined the term “aloha shirt”, as established by his 1937 trademark. Whether it was Miyamoto or Chun who was first, the aloha shirt as we know it can directly trace its origins to East Asia.

Ken’s short-sleeved aloha shirt echoes the styles of this early era, with a wide and sharp camp collar consistent with “golden era” sportswear of the ’30s well into the ’50s. Against its bright scarlet red ground, the all-over print consists of large-scaled lilac-colored flowers—perhaps orchids—and their green leafy stems. Five beige plastic buttons fasten through the white-threaded horizontal buttonholes up the plain, placket-less front, with likely a sixth button under the right collar leaf that would connect to the white woven loop extending from the left side of the neck. The shirt also has a small non-matching breast pocket with mitred corners and the same white contrast thread as visible along the underarm seams.

Susumu Terajima as Ken in Sonatine

Justus D. Barnes, vacation-style.

Ken wears stone-colored cotton jeans, detailed with a bronze thread on the seams and pockets which—combined with the his sandy adventures—wear the jeans to present a warmer tan finish. He holds them up with a dark brown edge-stitched leather belt that closes through a dulled silver-toned single-prong buckle.

The jeans have curved front pockets and standard patch-style back pockets, with the signature arcuate stitch and red tab that both clearly indicate that these are Levi’s.

Susumu Terajima and Masanobu Katsumura in Sonatine

Far removed from his serious, suit-wearing life in Tokyo, Ken quickly embraces the sand-in-his-toes lifestyle, self-cuffing his jeans and often going barefoot on the beach. When he does wear shoes, he slides into the comfortable informality of simple loafers, the taupe canvas espadrille-style two-piece uppers attached onto black leather soles.

Takeshi Kitano, Aya Kokumai, Susumu Terajima, and Masanobu Katsumura in Sonatine

Murakawa, Ken, and Ryōji stride out onto the beach, now joined by Miyuki (Aya Kokumai), a rape victim that Murakawa had rescued on the dunes.

The passing of time negates the need for Ken to wear a watch, and it makes few appearances after his first few days on the island. The wristwatch he soon abandons has a plain gold case with a round gold dial, strapped to his left wrist on a dark brown leather bracelet.

Masanobu Katsumura, Takeshi Kitano, and Susumu Terajima in Sonatine

This is why you don’t let depressed crime bosses decide what games you play on beach day.

Ken obtains a second aloha shirt as the gang diversifies its island wardrobe. This golden yellow shirt is similarly styled but even more busily patterned, with an all-over green palm print that grows increasingly floral and leafy toward the shirt’s hem.

Susumu Terajima and Masanobu Katsumura in Sonatine

Ken unpacks—and then models—his new palm-printed aloha shirt.

What to Imbibe

Ken and Ryōji make the most of the local beer Orion, both drinking it and also shooting its empty cans off of each other’s heads… but more about that later.

Susumu Terajima as Ken in Sonatine

Sosei Gushiken founded the brewery in May 1957, during the American occupation of Okinawa, though the German-style beer he produced initially struggled to find an audience. Following a transition to an American-style beer and a well-publicized naming contest that led to its celestial-inspired appellation, Orion remains the fifth largest brewery in Japan and controls the majority of the beer market in the Okinawa prefecture.

The Gun

Ken’s firearm that he and Ryōji share when shooting at the Orion cans atop each other heads never appears to be clearly identified, though certain details indicate the likelihood of a Colt revolver with a matte blue steel frame and the curious mix of a King’s-style ramped target front sight on the fore-end of a shorter 3″ barrel. The unsupported ejector rod particularly suggests an earlier Colt model and, combined with the muzzle bore and frame size, I’m inclined to believe it may be a Colt Official Police—or a blank-firing replica—that Ken and Ryōji are passing between each other when Murakawa joins them and changes the game to rock, paper, scissors, and Russian roulette.

As its name implies, Colt marketed the Official Police as a law enforcement revolver upon its introduction in 1927, reworked from the early Colt Army Special. The standard cartridge was the venerated .38 Special that Smith & Wesson had developed around the turn of the 20th century, fired from a sturdy, larger-framed handgun than the slightly smaller Colt Police Positive.

Masanobu Katsumura and Susumu Terajima in Sonatine

Later, Murakawa also hands Ken his own M1911A1 pistol to use during some of the beach games. This classic .45-caliber service pistol was designed by John Browning in the early 20th century, when it was first produced by Colt; the original M1911 was “improved” as the gently modified M1911A1 during the 1920s, after which it would remain the American military’s designated sidearm for nearly sixty more years.

Murakawa carries a full-sized 1911-style pistol in the classic G.I. configuration of a blued steel frame with vertical slide serrations and checkered walnut grips. He had used it to defend himself ably—if emotionlessly—during the barroom gunfight, and he also uses it during Sonatine‘s famous final scene.

Aya Kokumai, Susumu Terajima, and Takeshi Kitano in Sonatine

Ken reacts with consider excitement to Murakawa handing over his own 1911.

How to Get the Look

Susumu Terajima as Ken in Sonatine

Susumu Terajima as Ken in Sonatine (1993)

If April showers bring May flowers, then May should also mean rotating those floral prints back to the front of your wardrobe, as worn simply yet stylishly by Susumu Terajima in his red retro-styled aloha shirt as the taciturn gangster who grows increasingly playful the longer he spends on this sunny Okinawan island with his toes in the sand.

  • Bright red (with large-scaled lilac-and-green floral print) rayon short-sleeved aloha shirt with wide camp collar (with white-threaded loop), plain front, and breast pocket
  • Stone-colored cotton Levi’s jeans with belt loops, curved front pockets with right-side coin pocket, and patch back pockets (with arcuate stitch)
  • Dark brown leather edge-stitched belt with dulled silver-stoned single-prong buckle
  • Taupe canvas slip-on loafers with black leather soles
  • Gold round-cased wristwatch with round gold dial on dark brown leather strap

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie… just make sure that you’re finding a Blu-ray or DVD copy that will function in your region.

  • Kiriko Aloha Shirt, Pink with White Flowers (Kiriko, $175)
  • Kiriko Aloha Shirt, Red with Blue Bell Flowers (Kiriko, $275)
  • Pacific Legend Kilauea Red Hawaiian Shirt (Aloha Funwear, $38)
  • Paradise Found Ginger Orchid Red Hawaiian Shirt (Aloha Funwear, $68)
  • Paradise Found White Ginger Red Hawaiian Shirt (Aloha Funwear, $69)
  • Waimea Casuals Airbrush Bird of Paradise Red Hawaiian Shirt (Aloha Funwear, $48)
All prices and availability as of May 10, 2022.
  • Levi's 502™ Taper Fit Men's Pant in "Punk Star - Brown" (Levi's, $69.50)
  • Levi's 505™ Regular Fit Men's Pant in "Timberwolf Garment Dry - Brown" (Levi's, $69.50)
All prices and availability as of May 10, 2022.
  • Castañer Pablo slip-on espadrille shoes in brown leather (FARFETCH, $118)
  • H&M canvas espadrilles in dark taupe (H&M, $17.99)
  • Soludos Original Dali espadrilles in charcoal (Zappos, $47.95)
  • TOMS Alpargata Burlap in "natural" (TOMS, $54.95)
All prices and availability as of May 10, 2022.

Leave a Reply