Monday, July 13, 2020
House of Bamboo
Directed by Samuel Fuller and screenplay by Harry Kleiner with additional dialogue by Fuller, House of Bamboo is the story of an American military official who goes to Japan to learn about a former GI who has formed a gang with former soldiers and Japanese locals to steal weapons and such from the military. A loose remake of The Street with No Name that was co-written by Kleiner, the film is a noir-inspired film set in the world of American bases in Japan following the post-war years as it play into corruption from the military and a man trying to comprehend what is going on. Starring Robert Ryan, Robert Stack, Shirley Yamaguchi, and Cameron Mitchell. House of Bamboo is a riveting and compelling film from Samuel Fuller.
The film explores a series of incidents that involve the robbery of military weapons, ammunition, and smoke bombs that belonged to the U.S. army as well as the death of a few American soldiers prompting an undercover military official to go to Japan and infiltrate this gang led by a former GI. It’s a film that has a man hired by the U.S. army after a thief had been killed by one of the men in the gang as he is revealed to have married a Japanese woman who reluctantly agrees to help the undercover agent. Harry Kleiner’s screenplay that would feature additional dialogue by Samuel Fuller is an exploration of a man trying to figure out what this outfit led by this American GI and other Americans with Japanese locals wanting to make lots of money as much of the motives from its leader Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan) who was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. military and wants to stick it to the U.S. army and Japanese authorities.
Dawson’s actions forced the Army to bring in Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack) who had just been released from prison to infiltrate Dawson’s gang since Spanier was a friend of a man who was killed by one of Dawson’s men during a botched heist. Spanier would get into contact with the Japanese wife of one of the thieves who was killed during the botched heist in Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi) as she is reluctant to help but wants to know who killed her husband and why as they form a relationship of sorts despite the fact that interracial marriages/relationships remain taboo from both the Americans and Japanese. Even as Mariko makes some chilling discoveries that would have her help Spanier as well as uncover some dark truths into Dawson’s criminal empire.
Fuller’s direction is definitely wondrous in not just capturing post-war Japan life through the gorgeous usage of the Cinemascope as it captures the growing prosperity of the country as it is shot on locations in Tokyo, Yokohama, and various countryside areas. In wanting to get a sense of realism in the film and to capture post-war life, Fuller would use hidden cameras with wide and medium shots to get a glimpse of this life in Japan where people go into parks, temples, and anywhere else in the cities. Fuller would also showcase a world where there is still this post-war tension between the Americans and Japanese as it relates to how some the locals react towards Americans though American military officials and Japanese police officers try to maintain a sense of peace despite Dawson’s activities where it’s only the Japanese workers that are often injured in these heists unless guns are involved as they get killed. Fuller also maintains an intimacy in the medium shots and close-ups as it relates to Spanier and his growing friendship with Mariko that also include Mariko’s approach to creating poached eggs.
Fuller would also use crane and wide shots to get a scope of the locations as well as in some of the compositions that relate to the drama and suspense. Fuller also play into this air of taboo in how Japanese react to one of their own such as Mariko for her time with Spanier as if she had done something really offensive and dishonorable. Yet, Fuller show that Dawson is way crueler than the locals while he and a few of people in the gang will kill their own over something wrong as Spanier becomes concerned with Dawson’s increasing paranoia. The film’s third act has Fuller definitely take great usage of the locations in Tokyo as well as this attention to detail in the street corners as well as a rooftop theme park where Fuller creates some unique compositions and suspense to play into the intensity of the showdown. Overall, Fuller crafts a gripping and thrilling film about a U.S. military officer infiltrating a gang of former American soldiers engaging themselves in thievery and corruption.
Cinematographer Joseph MacDonald does brilliant work with the film’s colorful cinematography with its usage of DeLuxe Color to capture the beauty of the Japanese locations as well as creating some unique interior lighting for the scenes set at night as it is a highlight of the film. Editor James B. Clark does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense. Art directors Addison Hehr and Lyle R. Wheeler, along with set decorators Stuart A. Reiss and Walter M. Scott, do amazing work with the look of Dawson’s lavish yet traditional Japanese home as well as the look of the home that Spanier would live in. The sound work of Harry M. Leonard and John D. Stack do fantastic work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as the sounds of gunfire and smoke bombs. The film’s music by Leigh Harline is wonderful for its mixture of lush and bombastic orchestral music and traditional Japanese string music as it help play into the suspense and drama.
The film’s superb ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Elko Hanabusa as a screaming Japanese woman in the film’s opening sequence, Sandro Giglio as a corrupt cop in Ceram, Biff Elliot as the wounded thief Webber who is also Mariko’s husband, Brad Dexter as the American official Captain Hanson whom Spanier reports to, Sessue Hayakawa as the Japanese police investigator Kitz who works with Hanson, and DeForest Kelley as one of Dawson’s top goons in Charlie. Cameron Mitchell is terrific as Dawson’s right-hand man Griff who is suspicious about Spanier as he is also ruthless towards those who screw things up during a heist.
Shirley Yamaguchi is amazing as Mariko as a Japanese woman who had married an American soldier only to die due to his involvement with Dawson as she is reluctant to help out Spanier while also learning more about Dawson as she becomes close to Spanier. Robert Stack is excellent as Eddie Spanier as a U.S. army official who goes undercover as he copes with his job while dealing with the corruption that Dawson has created while becoming close with Mariko whom he wants to protect. Finally, there’s Robert Ryan in an incredible performance as Sandy Dawson as a disgraced American soldier who teams up with Japanese locals and other disgraced American soldiers as a way to stick it to the army as well as make money.
House of Bamboo is a phenomenal film from Samuel Fuller that features great performances from Robert Ryan, Robert Stack, and Shirley Yamaguchi. Along with its gorgeous cinematography, wondrous music score, and its mixture of noir, suspense, and drama set in post-war Japan. It is a film that explores post-war Japan as relations with Americans remain tense with some wanting to create chaos and mistrust prompting a few to do what is right for both countries. In the end, House of Bamboo is a sensational film from Samuel Fuller.
Samuel Fuller Films: I Shot Jesse James - The Baron of Arizona - The Steel Helmet - Fixed Bayonets! - Park Row - Pickup on South Street - (Hell and High Water) - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - Forty Guns - Verboten! - The Crimson Kimono - Underworld U.S.A. - Merrill's Marauders - Shock Corridor - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) – The Big Red One - White Dog - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)
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