Friday, June 14, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Take Aim at the Police Van (1960)

TAKE AIM AT THE POLICE VAN (1960) was recently shown by Eddie Muller on Turner Classic Movies.

The unusual title caught my attention, especially as I enjoy Japanese cinema. As it happens, I already had the film on DVD in the Criterion Eclipse Nikkatsu Noir collection, picked up in a past sale, so I pulled it out for viewing this week.

Very unexpectedly, the movie made a fascinating double bill seen back to back with another movie this week, TAKEN (2008). In both films the hero searches on a dark trail connecting him to seedy characters and ultimately the trafficking of drugged women.

In TAKE AIM AT THE POLICE VAN Daijiro Tamon (Michitaro Mizushima) is a prison guard. One night he's driving some inmates in a prison van which is ambushed on a deserted road. Two prisoners are shot and killed.

Although in reality there was nothing Tamon could have done, given that the shooters blocked the road with a large truck, he's held responsible and given a six-month suspension. Since the police seem to have no leads, Tamon decides to use his time off work to investigate the murders himself.

As Tamon follows leads trying to get to the bottom of the killings, more people disappear or die. He meets enigmatic Yuko (Misako Watanabe), who's running a mob-style business while her father is in the hospital. She seems to be an integral part of the story, along with former prisoner Goro (Shoichi Ozawa), who'd been a passenger in the van on the fateful night.

Whether Yuko will prove to be friend or foe and whether Tamon can solve the killings before he's killed himself are open questions...

I enjoyed this unusual detective film. I initially assumed that the suspended Tamon might prove to be something of a pathetic character, given that he's laid off for half a year for something which happened through no fault of his own, but instead Tamon proved to be sharp, savvy, and brave. He clearly has the respect of the police captain (Tatsuo Matsushita) he confers with, and one wonders a bit why Tamon was a police guard instead of a detective.

The story frankly isn't always easy to follow, to the point I rewound a couple scenes to make sure I was keeping the characters straight, but despite that issue, it's a fun watch -- an action-packed, brisk film which runs just 79 minutes. 

I also note that a couple scenes, including one with an arrow, are rather shocking for 1960.

In short, it was a very interesting, entertaining film, and I'm very much looking forward to exploring the rest of the Criterion set. DVD Beaver rated the overall set as "fabulous," and I've heard good things from others about this collection as well.

TAKE AIM AT THE POLICE VAN was directed by Seijun Suzuki and filmed by Shigeyoshi Mine. It was written by Shin'ichi Sekizawa based on a story by Kazuo Shimada.


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