The surface-level narrative of Sam Fuller’s House of Bamboo isn’t especially interesting—it’s a busy, overstuffed gangster drama centered around a dull primary character and frequently interrupted by a blandly-written romance. Even so, as a piece of old-college filmmaking, the movie is sensational—a gorgeous Cinemascope marvel which fuses Fuller’s knack for grimy B-movie pulp with ravishing prestige picture beauty. This is a curious movie a normal-concern crime drama dressed up as an exotic masterpiece. I liked it, mostly.
The story begins on a sensational note, as a Tokyo-bound military train containing each Japanese police and American soldiers is raided by properly-trained thieves. The train’s cargo (mostly guns and ammo) is stolen, and an American sergeant is killed in the midst of all the mayhem. The Americans and the Japanese agree to investigate the case with each other, with Captain Hanson (Brad Dexter, The Magnificent Seven) and Inspector Kito (Sessue Hayakawa, Bridge on the River Kwai) taking the lead on each side. They commence by interrogating Webber (Biff Elliot, I, the Jury), a thief who was wounded and left behind. Webber is dying, but refuses to reveal the names of his collaborators. The only factors the investigators are able to find out is that Webber is secretly married to a Japanese woman named Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi, Eternity), and that a buddy of Webber’s named Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack, Written on the Wind) is supposed to show up and join the gang in a few weeks.
Positive adequate, Eddie turns up correct on time. He tracks down Mariko, and cautions her to preserve her partnership with Webber a secret. Later, he tracks down Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan, The Set-Up), the American gangster who organized the train heist. Webber was the only person who could have vouched for Eddie, but Sandy finds this gruff, blue-eyed newcomer intriguing. Sandy’s gang is comprised totally of ex-GIs who had been dishonorably discharged, and Eddie undoubtedly has the needed qualifications: he did prison time for assaulting an officer, and was accused (but not convicted) of murder. Sandy invites Eddie to join the gang, and sooner or later invites him to serve as the gang’s second-in-command—a move that makes Sandy’s longtime associate Griff (Cameron Mitchell, How to Marry a Millionaire) a lot more than a small jealous.
Though the film areas a great deal of emphasis on the budding romance between Eddie and Mariko, the most intriguing partnership is the subdued enjoy triangle of sorts among Eddie, Sandy and Griff. Sandy is a closeted gay man, and it swiftly becomes clear that his inexplicable fondness for Eddie is rooted in something deeper than mere admiration of Eddie’s sordid history. Sandy loves Eddie, Griff loves Sandy and Eddie loves Mariko—a scenario that is bound to leave a complete lot of folks awfully unhappy. Naturally, the film (which was released in 1955) can’t be as well explicit about the abundance of very same-sex attraction on display, but Fuller tends to make things as explicit as attainable without truly spelling it out for the viewer.
Fuller is clearly head-over-heels in enjoy with the Japan, and Property of Bamboo frequently feels like a love letter to the country’s lush beauty. It really is a distinctly American point of view, of course: whilst Japanese filmmakers of the time usually presented a nation struggling to rebuild in the wake of war, Fuller sees a wealthy, vibrant culture that is nonetheless thriving in spite of almost everything. He makes tremendous use of the Cinemascope format, with a single scene after an additional that feels like the visual equivalent of a contented sigh.
That fondness for the nation isn’t quite shared by the film’s major character. As Julie Kirgo notes in her fine essay on the film, Eddie is far more or significantly less a common-issue “ugly American,” a disheveled mess who stomps about demanding to know if anybody speaks English and who initially appears to embody an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise elegant canvas. Fuller appears to really feel a considerably stronger kinship to Ryan’s Sandy, a cultured villain with a deep appreciation for the aesthetic and rituals of the globe he lives in. He knows that to thrive in Japan, you must turn out to be element of Japan—otherwise you’re just drawing consideration to yourself.
Time and time once more, I’m struck by what a fine actor Ryan was. He’s capable of playing (and normally underplaying) every single emotion, and here essays one particular of his calmest and most collected characters. Sandy has a relaxed confidence that efficiently offsets his troubling sadism—Sandy won’t hesitate to kill his males if they grow to be an inconvenience, but he tells them so in a manner that nearly seems reassuring. You can not trust Sandy, but you can trust him to live by the code he has set for himself. Flashes of intense emotion only seem when he’s grappling with his feelings for Eddie, most memorably in a scene which sees him warning Mariko not to treat Eddie poorly. It really is a terrific functionality.
Factors are a lot duller when we switch back to the Eddie/Mariko scenes, which earn points for depicting an interracial romance in the 1950s and lose them for depicting Mariko as a subservient stereotype. Far more importantly, the scenes are regularly boring, with an overtly sentimental tone that tends to undercut the film’s moody gangster-noir vibe. Still, Yamaguchi deserves credit for playing the part with much more nuance than exists on the web page (most of the characters refer to her as a “kimono”), and the scenes obtain a bit of a enhance from Leigh Harline’s undeniably lovely adore theme.
Home of Bamboo (Blu-ray) looks tremendous in hi-def, as Twilight Time’s new release provides an exceptional 2.55:1 transfer. The film’s striking colors are vibrant and vibrant, depth is powerful and detail is regularly outstanding. A warm layer of natural grain has been left in place, too. Aside from a handful of scenes that appear a little soft, it really is a prime-notch transfer. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track isn’t as busy or complex as a modern day track may well be, but it really is a great mix that blends the film’s assorted audio components collectively nicely. Harline’s music sounds just a small wobbly on occasion, but usually sounds lush and complete. Supplements contain two audio commentaries (one particular with Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, the other with Alain Silver and James Ursani), an isolated score track, two brief newsreel clips, a trailer and a booklet featuring the aforementioned Kirgo essay.
Property of Bamboo isn’t a excellent film, but it is frequently a wonderful piece of filmmaking—often enough to reward the time you invest in it, anyway. If you can forgive the run-of-the-mill crime plot (which contains an oh-so-predictable mid-film twist) and the generic romance, you will be treated to a visually sumptuous perform enhanced by a terrific Robert Ryan functionality, a fine score, some strong setpieces (particularly that magnificent opening) and a complex, nuanced portrait of male repression. Contemplating the film’s status as an pricey studio blockbuster, it manages to retain an impressive quantity of Fuller’s unmistakably vivid voice.