House of Bamboo (Blu-ray)

September 29, 2017 8 Min Read

Review by: Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

Samuel Fuller has recently been given a good amount of attention by film distributors Twilight Time on Blu-ray. In the last couple years they have released The Crimson Kimono, Hell and High Water, and House of Bamboo. The Crimson Kimono was the third Samuel Fuller film I had seen after watching two of the Criterion releases (The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor) and it converted me into a fan. Fuller is one of those people that is so distinct in style it took me a couple films to fall into his rhythms. As a recent convert, I had a little time on my hands this weekend so I did a double bill of Hell and High Water and House of Bamboo. I am so glad that I did.

House of Bamboo begins with a violent robbery of a train in Japan by a ruthless gang. When the robbery leaves an American GI dead, military policeman Eddie Spannier (Robert Stack) arrives in Japan to investigate how his friend from the war had died. He begins by tracking down his friends’ girlfriend Mariko (Shirley Yamguchi.) When he discovers his friend had been connected to a crime syndicate he infiltrates the syndicate by shaking down local businessmen for protection money. The leader of the syndicate, Sandy Dawson (an excellent Robert Ryan,) accepts Eddie into his gang after doing a thorough background check on him. Sandy’s gang of robbers live by a ruthless code in their heists – if anybody is injured on the job they will be shot dead to avoid spilling their guts to the cops. Eddie ingratiates himself to Sandy to take him down completely while falling into a relationship with Mariko.

Out of the five Samuel Fuller films I have seen thus far, House of Bamboo is my favorite. There are numerous reasons to enjoy the film. First, the acting is fantastic. Robert Stack is great as the rough and tumble military policeman. Robert Ryan (of The Wild Bunch fame) is perfection as the villainous Sandy Dawson. Watching Robert Ryan on screen is always great, but he is particularly engaging in this role. Second, the film takes place in and around Tokyo in 1955 and is shot in CinemaScope by cinematographer Joseph Macdonald (My Darling Clementine, The Young Lions.) It looks absolutely gorgeous. Macdonald and Fuller operate in full panoramic shots and overhead shots for the majority of the film and they are a sight to behold. The film also showcases a wide variety of colors due to the setting. Third, the writing by Harry Kleiner gives a good arc that Samuel Fuller rewrote into his trademark madcap style. This film has more going on than three or four movies combined. Fourth, the shootouts and robberies in the film lend themselves to a more realistic nature than typically portrayed in films from this time period. I don’t remember innocent bystanders being murdered in other films from the same time, but it happens here routinely. This would become more common place after the film The Wild Bunch, but I was surprised to see it happen in this film.

In my opinion, this movie serves as a fantastic way to introduce yourself to a true maverick director. Samuel Fuller delivers one of his best films here, commanding great performances and delivering an awesome finale. I highly recommend picking this one up and seeing if Samuel Fuller is for you.

Video: How’s it look?

Twilight Time must have been thrilled when they saw how beautiful this transfer of House of Bamboo turned out to be. CinemaScope was a beautiful format to shoot in and the MPEG-4 AVC encoded image in 2.55:1 takes advantage of the widest of screens. The cinematography of Japan in 1955 by Joseph Macdonald truly comes to life on the screen. Japan has always looked beautiful on film, but this film is truly extraordinary and captures Japan at such an interesting time in their development. The color palette used is so varied it could be used as a litmus test to see how well you have programmed your television. This is a really great presentation of the highest fidelity to the source material.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Twilight Time have provided a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. It has excellent fidelity to the original elements but they have been tweaked to have just a little more depth of field and to really let the score by Leigh Harline breathe. I could go into more specifics, but the truth is that the track sounded great for what it was. If you are expecting next generation sound, this is not where I would look first. That said, this 5.1 mix really helps the film to feel more engrossing for the time period in which it was filmed.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Audio Commentary – An enjoyable commentary between Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman makes it very obvious just how much Julie Kirgo truly loves this Samuel Fuller film in particular. That excitement translates into making the track feel lively and fun.
  • Audio Commentary – This commentary, while not as lively as the other, offers some great details about the film. I particularly enjoyed the discussions of homoeroticism in the film. I must have had my blinders on because I missed it somehow on my first viewing!
  • Fox Movietone Newsrolls – these are presented without audio:
    • Group in Japan –  Samuel Fuller and other principals of the film arriving in Japan.
    • Consul Visits Set –  a Japanese Consul visits them during filming.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Isolated Score Track

The Bottom Line

House of Bamboo finds Samuel Fuller firing on all cylinders in a beautiful Japanese setting. Robert Ryan and Robert Stack deliver great performances. This is a perfect film to introduce newcomers to Samuel Fuller and fans will want to add this to their collection immediately. Twilight Time have sourced a fantastic transfer from Fox that features excellent audio and video. With two commentary tracks and a couple other short features, there are some extra hours to enjoy thinking about this film. I highly recommend adding this to your collection and then beginning to go through the rest of Fuller’s films.

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