Take Aim at the Police Van (1960)

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take aim at the police van poster

A police van, transporting prisoners, is attacked on the road by a mysterious gunman. With two inmates dead, the officer in the vehicle, Tamon (gdhd) is suspended for 6 months. With his newfound free time, and the police with no leads, Tamon begins an investigation which will take him to seedy parts of Japan, a conspiracy, and a femme fatale with something to hide. When the dust clears, will Tamon find the reason behind the slayings and catch those responsible?
The legendary Seijun Suzuki directs this beautifully shot film noir full of excellent performances and entertainment. Taking clear influence from the massively popular American and European films of the genre and period, Suzuki does infuse it with some Japanese sensibility. The main character still wears trench coats, crisp hats, and has internal monologues aplenty, but the postwar period showcases a developing Japan with strong overlap between the old world and the new. Shot with a strong arm, the pace of the film is brisk but never rushed. Even as the body count rises, our hero is keeps his head and musters a certain coolness about him that is a hallmark of the best noir heroes.
Michitaro Mizushima plays Tamon with considerable likability and prowess. His sense of justice is strong and his detection skills keen. An easy protagonist to root for, he’s terrific. Misako Watanabe, in her role as Yuko is stunning in her beauty and provides some great drama as a suspect and potential love interest. She commands the screen whenever she appears and there’s an emotive quality to her performance that just wasn’t seen often in films of that day. The supporting cast does well with particular notice for Shoichi Ozawa and Mari Shiraki as a couple with perhaps a little too much information.
The production looks absolutely phenomenal, the film, shot in glorious black and white, utilizes excellent use of shadows and framing. There are so many great shots throughout the picture that choosing screenshots to accompany this review was a particularly difficult task. Great sets and location shooting, especially on daytime streets give this film version of Japan a life and vibrancy which conflicts with the seedier goings-ons surrounding this mystery. The music truly stands out as well; the blare of horns and excellent percussion solidly elevating the film just that much more. It’s as close to perfect a score for this genre as you’re likely to get, just great stuff.
Despite the short running time, Suzuki and company truly deliver a surprisingly taut and effective action thriller that should keep you guessing until the very end. A good classic style showdown in a rail yard makes for an exceptionally memorable ending and leaves the viewer with the impression of having seen something special. Film noir fans take note, this film has jumped among my favorites. Great Nikkatsu filmmaking.

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Long time film lover and occasional writer. I watch anything and everything though I have massive love for the works of Shunji Iwai, Jackie Chan, Johnnie To, and Kinji Fukasaku. POP! POP!

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