TAKE AIM AT THE POLICE VAN. Nikkatsu, Japa, 1960. Original title: Sono gosôsha wo nerae: ‘Jûsangô taihisen’ yori. Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki, Misako Watanabe, Shinsuke Ashida, Shôichi Ozawa. Director: Seijun Suzuki.

   Although not a film noir, this Japanese crime film from 1960 has a lot going for it for fans of the genre from a purely visual point of view. Filmed in sharp, clear black and white, Take Aim at the Police Van avoids the big glittering neon-lit cities seen so often in movie staking place in Japan, and concentrates instead on the underbellies of small towns and in darkened streets and long stretches of mostly isolated highway (not always).

   The opening scene tells you right away where the title in English came from. A prison bus is shot at by a sniper on a hillside, killing not the guards, but two of the three convicts being transported inside. One of the guards, Daijirô Tamon (played by Michitaro Mizushima) is deemed responsible and is given a six months’ suspension.

   Rather than sit back and take a vacation, Tamon decides to track down the killer(s) and find out what kind of scheme is behind the murders, thus leading him into a complex tale of a prostitution ring, dead ends, false trails, fake deaths, and narrowly escaping death in a runaway gasoline tanker leaking a trail of flames behind it as it thunders down a highway.

   Even more importantly, every clue he follows seems to lead him back to a beautiful but totally enigmatic woman, Yuko Hamashima (Misako Watanabe), whose father apparently runs a brothel, but in whose absence illness Yuko is trying to keep the business going, but with competition being what it is, without as much success as she’d prefer.

   I am hazy on the details. There are a lot twists and turns in the tale that is told in this movie, with very abrupt changes of scenes, not only in time but in location. Another viewing may help, and I think I will, if only to savor the entire viewing experience again, the story itself be damned.