Today I watched Seijun Suzuki’s Take Aim at the Police Van (1960)
If you want a good example of what Japanese genre film was like before Suzuki really found his style, this would be it. Take Aim at the Police Van is a classic Japanese noir, imitating much of that largely American genre, from the hard boiled detectives to the femm fatales. Japanese noir is an imitation though and despite using the tropes, does not really delve into the dark subject matter lurking beneath the surface of the American classics. Despite this they often boast impressive visuals and many develop their own thematic explorations.
The story here is about a prison officer who is protecting a prisoner transport when it is attacked by a sniper. He investigates the events further and, of course, it leads to a much deeper scheme. This plot gets a little convoluted at times as it flows very quickly, often stumbling over itself. While Suzuki may not yet be exhibiting the surreal style he is known for, his skill with imagery and his ability to highlight the unconventional are what make this film stand out.
In imitating an American genre, most of the characters are bereft of uniquely Japanese traits, you could easily recast them as other races and no one would be the wiser. Suzuki is aware of this and while he would not fully deconstruct this yet, there are many fun subtle nods to his opinion on the matter. Unfortunately that does not save this film from a certain thematic malaise, it has not translated the typical noir themes, yet does not write any new ones for itself.
While filmed in black and white, noir films have never been their best when the morals are black and white and that is the failing of this film. Though despite that it capitalizes on beautiful cinematography and often unique framing of scenes. It is an entertaining mystery with plenty of thrills despite lacking much of a thematic core. 3/5