House of Bamboo (1955)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1955. . Screenplay by , additional dialogue by Samuel Fuller. Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

[Information in this review could constitute spoilers]

arrives in post-war Japan ready to make trouble, entering pachinko parlours and demanding protection money from their managers. He is immediately pulled in by the American gangster who is running the streets of Tokyo, played with his usual sociopathic aplomb by , who takes a liking to Stack’s reckless gumption and offers him a job working as one of his goons. Stack readily agrees, shacking up with a “kimono” () and joining his new boss on the various capers and heists that keep him flush with criminally-acquired cash.

What the head honcho doesn’t know is that Stack was a plant from the beginning, an American soldier who was sent in undercover to investigate a train robbery that got a military man killed, the only witness with substantive information a possible cohort of Ryan’s who died right after revealing the identity of Yamaguchi as his secret wife. She, having had no idea of her husband’s criminal wrongdoings, is pretending to be Stack’s mistress in order to find out the meaning behind her husband’s death, and the two of them are risking quite a lot of danger to themselves in keeping such company to achieve their aims.

Samuel Fuller brings his no-nonsense directorial style to this police thriller that is shot in gorgeous widescreen Technicolour but is never without the sense of glamorous doom that features in the best noir classics. Towards the final third, the plot could use some sparkling up, at some point in a story about an undercover operative there has to be the fatal mistake that reveals him to his mark, and here it happens without much imagination or style, but some of Fuller’s subtleties are to be admired; while never saying anything outright about America’s post-war occupation in Japan, Fuller’s portraying Americans as either corrupt or feckless suggests that there’s no heroism about his country’s presence in Japan.

The excitement is capped off with a terrific climax, a shoot-out on a rooftop amusement park that display’s Fuller’s ethos towards violence, a reality of life that he cannot sugarcoat and which he refuses to glorify by infusing it with any style (most of the gunshots are seen in long shots, we don’t emotionally identify with anyone who is pulling a trigger).

Yamaguchi’s relationship with Stack is one of the film’s chief pleasures, and it’s a shame that we lose touch with her towards the end, but Stack makes for a stalwart, amiable presence whose successfully swindles the audience into thinking he’s a cheap hood before the truth is revealed. Look for future “Bones” McCoy DeForest Kelley in a supporting role as an amoral henchman.

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