Intrigue! Action! Kimono girls!
A Film Noir set in post-war Japan seems like bliss. A dismal and lawless society, the people desperate, struggling back from the brink of destruction. Enter a lone hero, trying to do something worth facing himself in the mirror for. I can see it in my head right now. It’s called… “Stray Dog” by Akira Kurosawa. But it isn’t “House of Bamboo”.
“House of Bamboo” is a different film, one that I have a hard time seeing as Film Noir. It’s too bright. The good guys are too good. The morals too upstanding. Oh, it has some fantastic scenes in it. Brilliant scenes, stuff that make the movie worth watching. The assassination of a certain key figure while he is in a Japanese bath is pure movie magic. Hard-boiled goodness. Director Samuel Fuller tries his best to work the beauty of Japan in there, and it is impressive. That man can work Mt. Fuji into pretty much any situation possible, including peaking from between a dead man’s boots. But on the whole…it falls flat.
Much of the flatness is the Japanese setting. This is basically a re-make of “The Street with No Name”, with only the location changed. But what worked there doesn’t work here. Having the entire Tokyo crime scene being run by a bunch of white guys just doesn’t ring true. Where are the Yakuza? Why does a film set in Japan have so few Japanese people in it? Its little wonder people in Japan were furious when “House of Bamboo” was released, due to its entire lack of authenticity and its way of showing Japan as a quaint little country in need of the white man’s help, in both the underworld and the police. Not to mention having the entire female of Japan population dismissed as “kimono girls”, to be used as toys, traded amongst each other, and then cast aside when a new model appears.
Even if you are willing to look all of that aside, the acting, particularly Robert Stack, is pretty much by-the-numbers. Nobody seems to be willing to rise to any level above “standard”. Shirley Yamaguchi stands around and looks pretty as well as any pretty girl can. It is funny to listen to her American-accented Japanese, which is something you don’t hear in films that often. Robert Ryan, as the mastermind and cold-blooded villain, is the only bright light in the flick, bringing a bit of character to his role.
“House of Bamboo” is not horrible film. It’s more of a disappointment of potential than anything else. Even as it is it is worth a watch or two, mainly for Fuller’s camera work, and those few perfect scenes that will take your breath away. Just don’t expect too much.