Eye For Film >> Movies >> House Of Bamboo (1955) Film Review
Those looking for a gritty, realistic gangland thriller will be sorely disappointed - this outlandish tale of crime on the streets of Tokyo is pure comic book romp. But that doesn’t make it a bad movie - if you suspend your disbelief and take a large pinch of the proverbial sodium chloride, it’s actually a lot of fun.
Set in post-war Japan, the movie kicks off with the armed robbery of a military supply train. Two Americans are killed and the US army teams up with the local police to hunt down the gang responsible.
At this time, a friend of one of the dead men arrives in Tokyo from San Francisco to visit. The guy, Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack), tracks down his pal’s secret Japanese wife Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi) but when he learns of his mate’s demise he heads off to try to make a living – by offering ‘protection’ to local gambling dens in exchange for cash.
This sees him cross the path of Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan) and his gang of ex-servicemen – the same gang Eddie’s pal was involved with and killed by. He joins the gang – but Eddie is not the shady hood he seems and Sandy is about to find this out.
First off, it’s an incredibly unrealistic premise that a gang of US rat-pack-type criminals, who don’t even speak the language, would be running Tokyo’s underworld. All they seem to do is collect protection cash from a few gambling dens and commit the odd robbery – there is no sign of the deadly Yakuza that was flourishing at the time.
There are elements of stereotype and Orientalist representations of Japan and the East that dominate early and classical Hollywood but these are not purely insulting. Fuller has a respect for the nation’s culture and differences to the West and displays them with appreciation.
So while Eddie marches through the streets with seeming contempt for the alien culture he encounters – and complains furiously about the lack of English speakers – the cinematography show a rich, vibrant city of colour and wonder that the viewer looks at in awe, not disgust.
This was the first Hollywood film shot on location in Japan and Fuller makes the most of the opportunity.
A wonderfully shot scene during Spanier’s hunt for Mariko sees a kabuki theatre troupe rehearsing on a rooftop. The colourful costumes are presented in flattering daylight rather than under the glare of harsh, false studio light.
Depsite the references to Kimono girls rather than Geisha, the woman are shot beautifully – colourful flowers blossoming against the often grey streets of Tokyo. Other stunning shots worthy of mention include glorious sequences against the backdrop of Mount Fuji, a Buddhist temple and skyline shots of Tokyo itself.
The interior sets are just as praiseworthy, full of rich colour and captured wonderfully by Fuller.
There are no Ming the Merciless-type clichés here – which in some ways compensates for the limited plot and often cringeworthy dialogue.
The homoerotic subtext is blatent, with Sandy commenting on how he “likes his boys to look sharp”. He also saves Eddie despite a rule always to kill those injured on jobs, while his chief henchman Griff (Cameron Mitchell) also loses his rag big-time when his boss finds a new favourite boy.
A couple of scenes stand out, including a laughable slaying of a gangster while he’s in a wooden hilarious.
The final shoot-out set high above the streets of Tokyo is better. It’s ridiculously set in a funfair on top of a skyscraper – who would let their kids on rides on a roof thousands of feet high? – but this provides wonderful shots of the Tokyo skyline.
It’s hardly a tense duel although you will be amazed how many bullets you can fire from a handgun. Overall, if you aren’t too bothered about realism and fancy some Sunday afternoon matinee fodder, visit the House of Bamboo.Reviewed on: 03 Sep 2007