The Yellow Handkerchief (Shiawase no Kiiroi Hankachi)
Review by David Cirone
Starring Ken Takakura as a drifter picked up by a joyriding young couple, The Yellow Handkerchief starts out with just enough tension to keep you hooked on the possible outcomes of what is essentially a loosely-plotted, dialogue-heavy road movie. Will Takakura’s character reveal the reasons for his troubling dreams of a prison escape? Will the young girl (Kaori Mamoi) get in over her head with the puppy-dog-in-heat driver (Tetsuya Takeda) she’s decided to hitchhike with?
Yes, you find out the answers, but nothing goes in a straight line in The Yellow Handkerchief, and moments of character drama are deftly intercut with comedy and occasional silence to let us fully engage and care about each member of the central trio. I was impressed by director Yoji Yamada’s restraint and his use of long, wide shots of the the Japanese countryside that let us decide our own pace of engagement.
The Yellow Handkerchief won the first Best Picture award at the Japan Academy Prize in 1978, and it still holds up nearly 40 years later as a touching, unpredictable drama and a fantastic showcase for Takakura’s magnetic performance.