A Hakosuka Skyline gets obliterated in ‘Did the Red Bird Escape?’

The 1973 film Akai Tori ni Geta? (Did the Red Bird Escape?) was an avant garde work that differed vastly from Japan’s typical crime dramas. Rather than heroic cops taking down bad guys, it was a tragedy about aimless youth and the darker side of 1970s Japan. That didn’t preclude it from featuring a protracted car chase at the climax, in which filmmakers destroyed a Nissan Skyline 2000GT borrowed from a Toho Studios producer.

The behind the scenes of Did the Red Bird Escape? is almost as interesting as the movie plot. Pyongyang-born Toshiya Fujita was a struggling filmmaker in the 1960s, but caught a lucky break when an old film school friend, James Miki, introduced him to producer Kikumaru Okuda of the famed Toho Studios, makers of the Godzilla series. Okuda was a big deal, serving as producer on many of Toho’s works and You Only Live Twice, the James Bond film set in Japan.

On the day of Fujita’s big meeting with Okuda, he arrived in a beat up Toyota Corona full of scripts and clothing. “My wife kicked me out today,” Fujita reportedly said to the producer. Nevertheless, Fujita was able to impress Okuda so much that he greenlit Fujita’s project with Miki as screenwriter without doing his due diligence. Soon he met with resistance from within Toho, whose execs wanted to use internal directors only. On top of that, Fujita and Miki got into a huge fight and took several years to bury the hatchet. Everything worked out eventually, but it was a miracle the film got made at all.

As for the story, Did the Red Bird Escape? has a complex and meandering plot that didn’t follow typical movie structure of the time. Two young men, Hiroshi and Takuro, both as they are estranged from their families, meet when they’re hired by a wealthy man to participate in a scheme but end up getting scammed by him. They beat up the rich guy, putting him in the hospital.

Eventually they team up with an aspiring music composer named Mako and become an ad hoc family. The three wander around Tokyo looking for get-rich-quick rackets. Mako performs at a strip club. Hiroshi goes to the hospital to shake down the rich man but gets arrested. Meanwhile, Takuro goes to the same man’s house and steals his hunting rifle and car, the Hakosuka Skyline, a high-end model for the time.

Eventually the three come up with a moneymaking plan. Turns out, Mako is actually the rebellious daughter of a big shot politician. Hiroshi and Takuro “kidnap” her to get a payout from her father. The meeting point happens to be the port of Yokohama, near Nissan’s factory, where rows and rows of Sunnys and Bluebirds are awaiting shipment.

Before they can carry out the plan, the trio runs into a corrupt ex-policeman that had been hassling Takuro. A scuffle ensues, and they knockout the former cop and stuff him in the trunk of the Hako. Later, as they attempt to exchange Mako for the ransom her father, who rolls up in a red Nissan Gloria, gets wise to the scheme, disowns her, and leaves.

The trio drives away dejected, and as if things couldn’t get any worse, the Hako’s trunk pops open and the ex-policeman regains consciousness. A passing 130 Cedric police car notices the man and gives chase. The pursuit expands with several patrol cars joining the fray. Shots are exchanged, and in the chaos the corrupt cop is not only killed, but run over by a pursuing Cedrics.

The chase ends in a field, the Skyline completely beaten up and surrounded by police. Inexplicably, several Crown and Cedric taxi drivers have also followed and are standing around to watch it all go down. Both Takuro and Hiroshi have taken bullets. “What should we do?” asks Mako. Hiroshi replies, “Nothing,” as a hail of gunfire kills off the trio and blows up the Skyline. Think of it as a Japanese Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

The video above consists of the Skyline scenes throughout the movie spliced together, so it may feel disjointed. The cinematography had a very Showa Era feel, but the tragic theme of lost youth is at odds with the hopeful tone of what we typically associate with Skylines of the era. Okuda was apparently so committed to the project that not only did he lend them his car, but asked if they could use it in a chase. Things kept escalating until they exploded it. Hopefully he was able to write it off on his taxes. The final scene is a tow truck pulling the Hako’s carcass as the credits roll.

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