House of Bamboo is a 1955 film noir by director Samuel Fuller. The film opens with narration detailing filming locations in Japan. There is then some background on what we are seeing. A cargo train, guarded by both American and Japanese forces, is robbed of the cargo and ammunition it carries.
The next thing we see is a gunman being treated in hospital for his wounds. The American military and Japanese police are questioning him. They drop the name ‘Eddie Spanier’ and the young man reveals that he has recently married a young Japanese woman named Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi).
It is now that we see Robert Stack as Eddie Spanier for the first time. He visits Mariko, demanding details of what her husband was involved in. When she can tell him nothing, he begins making a nuisance of himself among the businesses of Tokyo. We later learn that this is in order to get himself noticed by the local mob boss. Robert Ryan stars as Sandy Dawson, the big-time racketeer who brings Spanier in on the action.
At this point in the film, one is left wondering exactly what is going on. Perhaps typically of the noir genre, it leaves the viewer feeling as much in the dark as any character. So much so that this reviewer started to wonder if I had missed a step. It is not until relatively late in the story that it becomes clear what the wider plot is. It is only then that you can become more invested in the characters.
By the time that Eddie and Mariko are living in Dawson’s house, both embroiled in this tense game, there is no turning back. It really pulls the viewer in as it becomes more human and less distant.
Why this release?
From watching the theatrical trailer included on the disc, the difference between former releases and this brilliant restoration is clear. The picture quality is now stunning.
When watching a film of this type, it can be difficult to feel invested. Particularly a film noir due to its characteristic coldness. This new release of House of Bamboo allows the warmth and delicacies to show through. Characters’ expressions are so clear that they cannot fail to move the viewer.
Although this disc is fairly light on special features, the disc does include the original theatrical trailer and two audio commentary tracks with film historians. One of these is with Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman; the other with Alain Silver and James Ursini. This can feel a little lacklustre; however films like this stand alone very well. There is something mysterious in the location’s atmosphere and story which benefits from not having the veil of illusion lifted by behind the scenes features.
Peppered with rather conventional characters, this could feel a little obvious. The gruff, distant-but-tender undercover guy and the strong but creepy crime boss are rather familiar. Also, there are some expected stereotypes among the Japanese characters. For the time, however, this is dealt with rather softly. There are not any heavy-handed racial undertones, merely references to traditional attitudes among differing cultures.
Being able to watch this Samuel Fuller noir alongside four other examples of his best work also lifts House of Bamboo. Out of the rather distant and bleak mood of the first forty minutes or so, a really compelling and exciting story emerges. As it builds towards the climax, House of Bamboo feels worth every minute of the 102-minute running time.
Fuller at Fox
House of Bamboo is part of Eureka Entertainment’s Fuller at Fox Blu-ray box set. Fuller at Fox is a collection of 5 of Director Samuel Fuller’s finest films on Blu-ray. The set includes Fixed Bayonets (1951), Pickup on South Street (1953), Hell and High Water (1954), House of Bamboo (1955) and Forty Guns (1957). It is part of the Masters of Cinema series. Fuller at Fox is available from Eureka Entertainment or Amazon from 11th November 2019.