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Red Hankerchief
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by Jay Seaver

"A great, if hard to find, crime story."
5 stars

There are some that rank "Red Handkerchief" as the best film produced by Nikkatsu studios during its peak, and I certainly can't contradict them. It's the sort of thing that makes for surprisingly great movie: The outer form of a detective story surrounding a core of regret, deception, and love.

It opens with a couple of Yokohama detectives chasing a gangster through crowded back alleys. Makimi (Yujiro Ishihara) is the rising star, a college-educated youth on Japan's Olympic shooting team, and Ishizuka (Hideaki Nitani) his working-class partner. Their quarry is hit by a truck, and the only witness - an old man running a ramshackle food stand - won't say anything. Makimi becomes infatuated with the old man's factor-worker daughter (Ruriko Asaoka), but any chance of a future romance is snuffed out when Mikami guns her father down during an escape attempt.

Jump to four years later. The head of Yokohama's organized crime task force tracks Makimi down in an itinerant construction gang. Tsuchiya (Nobuo Kaneko) says he's always thought something stank about the whole situation, and he'd like Makimi to do some poking around - police forces don't like to investigate one of their own, after all. Makimi's not interested, at first, but when he hears that Ishizuka is now the wealthy owner of several local department stores, and is married to the daughter, well, that gets him curious.

You don't have to be a brilliant detective to figure out that Ishizuka is dirty, although gathering proof that would hold up in court is a different beast. Of course, discovering the hows that could connect Ishizuka to the local yakuza is probably less important to Makimi and the audience than figuring out the whys and whens. Was Makimi betrayed or did Ishizuka seize an opportunity? Did Ishizuka always have an eye on the girl, or is it like she says, that he helped her when she had nothing and Makimi had sent himself into exile?

This is the type of movie Nikkatsu called "mood action", a sort of soapy shoot-em-up. Ishihara and Asaoka were frequent co-stars in these pictures, and they're a good pairing. Ishihara was one of the studio's matinee idols, and though the script sometimes plays to that - Mikami carries a guitar with him and Ishihara sings the film's theme - but he gives the character more weight than that. Mikami is a guy who has had all his illusions shattered multiple times, and Ishihara makes him wary and weary, not really wanting to believe the worst of Ishizuka, with anger only gradually and tentatively entering his performance.

Asaoka also plays somewhat against type; usually cast in more glamorous roles, she comes across as sincere when playing the poor factory girl in the beginning, and somewhat adrift when we meet her again later as Ishizuka's wife. Nitani is good as Ishizuka; he switches places with Ishihara's Mikami in terms of class, and though he doesn't obviously carry an inferiority complex around with him, he does make it clear that jealousy could have been a motive back at the start. Kaneko was a busy character actor, and fits into the crusty old cop role with ease.

Director (and co-writer) Toshio Masuda handles his duties masterfully; he steers the setting between respectability and squalor with ease, piecing together a story about a man who seemingly has redemption forced upon him. The emotional stories peel back perfectly, so we as the audience feel like we're solving a mystery even though we basically all know the score.

A nifty trick, that. I can't say it makes "Red Handkerchief" Nikkatsu's best film of the period (after all, I've seen four or five out of hundreds), but I certainly hope the Nikkatsu Action! series currently touring the country's specialty theaters gets it an English-friendly DVD release, at least.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17563&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/16/08 11:58:38
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User Comments

6/22/09 margaret K8JF2L ega7Kl0dnDduqp6s2bnp1o 5 stars
6/22/09 nataly vqFnWX ghUnxCczpf72ndOqi20g 3 stars
6/15/09 Sjeyxuva Very interesting tale 2 stars
6/14/09 Dbsekwxx perfect design thanks 5 stars
6/14/09 Dbsekwxx perfect design thanks 5 stars
6/09/09 eblanned It's serious 5 stars
5/10/09 Eltyxebm It's serious 2 stars
7/11/08 Oybrllcm Very interesting tale 5 stars
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