Photo of Officer Itami in the film

Police Officer (Keisatsukan, 警察官), 1933

Other titles: Policeman, Police (alternate English titles); Policial (alternate Portuguese title)

Production CompanyShinkō
DistributorAsakusa Denkikan
ScenaristYamauchi Eizo
SourceTakeda Toshihiko, Ōmori Bank Robbery (play)
CinematographerAisaka Sōichi
Art DirectorMizutani Hiroshi
PerformersNakano Eiji (Tomioka Tetsuo); Kosugi Isamu (Officer Itami); Matsumoto Taisuke (Sgt. Miyabe Keikan); Ubukata Sōji [as Ubukata Ippei] (Officer Hashimoto); Araki Shinobu (Chief of Police Oshima); Asada Kenji (Judiciary Chief); Mori Shizuko (Tazuko, Miyabe’s daughter); Katsura Tamako (Emiko); Kitaoka Isao (Shinichi, Emiko’s younger brother)
StatusExtant (allegedly about 10% missing, but see note to Length below)
PhotographyBlack and white
SoundNo
Format35 mm.
Ratio1.33:1
English subtitlesYes (hard-coded)1
Original release dateNovember 30, 1933
Length121 minutes (12 reels; 18 fps); 91 minutes (24 fps)2
Festival screeningsTokyo FILMeX (2004); MOMA retrospective (2016); San Francisco Silent Film Festival (2018)

Synopsis

On a highway near Tokyo, the police have set up a roadblock to find the leader of a gang of criminals they are seeking. They stop a chauffeured car in which a wealthy, polite, well-dressed young man, Tomioka Tetsuo, is riding. He claims that he has just come back from the golf course, and a policeman asks if he can check his golf bag. As the officer is searching it, Tetsuo suddenly recognizes another policeman at the roadblock, Officer Itami, as an old high school friend. The two warmly greet each other. Because they are acquainted, the other officer stops searching Tetsuo’s bag and lets his car through.

Tetsuo later shows up at police headquarters looking for Itami, who is just coming off duty. As they walk away from the police station, they reminisce about old times and catch up on each other’s lives. Years earlier, Itami had dropped out of high school after a period of turmoil, but found his calling after joining the police force, thanks to his mentor, Sergeant Miyabe. The rich Tetsuo, who doesn’t get along with his businessman father, tells Itami that he spends most of his days in idleness on the golf course. They agree to meet again.

Officer Itami, a highly respected figure in his neighborhood, is shown helping his neighbors, even the children. He lives in the same house with Sergeant Miyabe and Miyabe’s daughter, Tazuko, to whom he is close. Itami and Miyabe are assigned to a local checkpoint to help catch the criminal gang. One night they stop a car in which Emiko, a neighbor woman, is riding with a rich man who is rude to Itami, and it becomes clear that Emiko is working as a prostitute. Shortly afterward, Itami stops by Emiko’s house, only to discover that she and her family, now shamed, have moved away.

While on duty during the night, Itami and Miyabe are notified that a bank robbery is in progress, and they and many other officers rush to the scene. Miyabe, trying to stop the escaping robbers, is shot and wounded by a masked man, but not before wounding his assailant in the leg with his sword. (These police carry swords as weapons, rather than guns.) Itami knocks down and arrests one of the criminals, while the man who shot Miyabe limps away and is picked up by a getaway car.

While Miyabe is lying in critical condition in the hospital, Itami discovers a fingerprint on Miyabe’s sword. Experts surmise that the fingerprint on the sword belongs to the criminal who escaped the scene. Later it’s revealed that the fingerprint doesn’t match the prints of anyone recorded in police department files.

While walking away from the hospital, the off-duty Itami is greeted by the cheerful Tetsuo, and they go to a restaurant for a meal and drinks. The two men fondly reminisce about their high-school days. However, Tetsuo inadvertently reveals that his leg is wounded. Tetsuo asks Itami about the police investigation of the robbery, which he has read about in the newspapers. Itami reveals that the police are stymied because the captured robber won’t talk. After they leave the restaurant, Tetsuo offers Itami a bouquet of flowers to give to the still-hospitalized Miyabe.

Out in the street, Itami, in civilian clothes, realizes he’s being tailed. He at first eludes the man pursuing him, then follows him to a pool hall, where he unexpectedly meets Tetsuo again. The latter reveals he will be going to Osaka shortly, but the two men promise to meet one more time before he leaves. When Itami exits the pool hall, he waits in the street for his original pursuer to emerge from the pool hall. He tries to follow the man through the maze of alleyways, but loses him.

On his way home, a neighbor boy cheerfully greets Itami and brings him upstairs to meet his mother. Itami notices an apartment across the street, in the window of which Tetsuo’s easily-identified golf bag is visible. A man suddenly appears in the window of the apartment and removes the bag, and from the mother’s casual comments, Itami begins to suspect that this apartment may be the gang’s hideout. At home, Itami, in notes he is writing to himself, reveals that he now suspects Tetsuo.

Back at police headquarters, Itami is given permission by the Chief to question the captured robber, but then learns that the man has just committed suicide. Meanwhile, he is notified that Sergeant Miyabe at the hospital has taken a turn for the worse. The policemen rush to his bedside, but Miyabe is already dead.

Itami decides to stake out the apartment in which he’d seen the golf bag. He waits in an alleyway in bad weather for three days, but never sees Tetsuo go in or out. The exhausted Itami wakes up in the alley and suddenly sees his friend emerge from the building. He tails Tetsuo to a harbor, where the smiling policeman approaches Tetsuo, pretending to have casually met his old friend yet again. Tetsuo suspects that this is a ruse, but doesn’t dare let on, and so accompanies Itami, unwillingly, to a bar in the Ginza.

In the bar, at which Emiko works as a barmaid, Tetsuo lights a cigarette with a fancy lighter. Itami admires the lighter, and Tetsuo impulsively offers it to him as a gift. The policeman, careful not to touch the part of it that Tetsuo touched, produces a handkerchief, places the lighter inside it, and puts both handkerchief and lighter away. Tetsuo, realizing that Itami wants the lighter for his, Tetsuo’s, fingerprints, is aghast.

In the alley outside the restaurant, the desperate Tetsuo tries to get the lighter back from his friend, but he refuses to return it. Shortly after the two men part, one of the criminal gang appears out of nowhere and beats Itami unconscious with a blackjack. The gang meets at its hideout, where Tetsuo announces that they will be leaving by boat at 1:00 am that night. Meanwhile, Emiko finds the unconscious Itami in the alley and brings him home in a taxi.

Itami regains consciousness and goes upstairs. He dusts the lighter for fingerprints and is able to take an impression of his friend’s print, which matches the one found on the sword. He is distraught at this proof that his friend is a thief and murderer.

Itami returns immediately to police headquarters, and the entire force sets out for Tetsuo’s hideout to arrest the gang before they can escape. They circle the building to trap the criminals, and then burst into the apartment. Tetsuo hides, then attempts to run, but Itami sees him and gives chase.

Tetsuo soon finds himself trapped on a bridge with his friend beside him and a roadblock of cops in front of him. Itami tries to persuade him to surrender, but Tetsuo punches him and runs towards the railing of the bridge, apparently intending to commit suicide by jumping off. Itami shoots Tetsuo and wounds him in the hand. Tetsuo walks back to Itami, who binds his wound and handcuffs him. The two men embrace.

Notes on the Cast

Photo of actor Kosugi Isamu
Kosugi Isamu in the German-Japanese co-production The New Earth (Atarashiki Tsuchi,1937)

Kosugi Isamu was the actor Uchida worked with more often than any other in the prewar era. (Most of the films they made together are now lost.) He was distinctive for his stocky physique, which became more pronounced with age. His versatility is impressive in such Uchida films as this one, Unending Advance (1937) and Earth (1939). He’s perhaps best known for his leading role in the infamous Japanese-German co-production The New Earth (Atarashiki Tsuchi, 1937), a.k.a. Daughter of the Samurai, co-directed by Itami Mansaku and the Nazi Dr. Arnold Fanck. (This was the film that made Hara Setsuko a major star in Japan.) Kosugi became a prolific director in the postwar era while continuing his acting career. His final performance for Uchida was as the bohemian artist Umeda in Twilight Saloon (1955).

Photo of actor Nakano Eiji
Nakano Eiji in 1935

Nakano Eiji was a prolific actor in the prewar era, best known for his work with Mizoguchi, such as The Downfall of Osen (Orizuru Osen, 1934) and Oyuki the Madonna (Maria no Oyuki, 1935). For Uchida, he made at least one other film, the lost 1927 movie Hoen danu (Cannon Smoke and Rain of Shells). He also directed at least two films nearly a decade apart: Tengoku tôsshin (Heaven Rush, 1932) and Shogun (1941). Although Nakano survived until 1990, his acting credits abruptly end in the 1940s. He was last seen on screen as a lively interview subject in Shindo Kaneto’s award-winning 1975 documentary, Mizoguchi Kenji: the Life of a Film Director (Aru eiga-kantoku no shōgai).

(Continued on Page 2)

Footnotes

  1. In the only copy I have seen, it seems possible that this subtitled version may have been created during the period when the movie was first released in the 1930s. This would imply that the film had some kind of distribution in the English-speaking world, perhaps in theaters serving Japanese émigré communities.
  2. All sources show 121 minutes as the running time, but my copy of the film is only about 91 minutes long, nearly half an hour shorter. I found what may be the explanation for this minor mystery in the Tokyo FILMeX page about the movie, included as part of its 2004 Uchida retrospective. According to the program note, the film’s running time is given as 91 minutes when projected at 24 frames-per-second, and 121 minutes when projected at its proper speed at 18 frames per second. This would explain why the characters’ (especially Itami’s) movements, in my copy, appear somewhat rushed and jerky in the film’s exterior (location) shots, but doesn’t explain why their movements appear much more natural in scenes that take place in interior settings.

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