This Sam Fuller directed film was released a decade after the end of WWII and Japan has of course transformed itself quite a bit since then. ‘House Of Bamboo‘ was the first post-war American movie to be filmed in Japan and as you can imagine most of the Tokyo locations (including Ginza and Asakusa) now look nothing like what’s seen on screen. However, there are a couple of locations which have remained relatively unchanged in the six decades that have passed since filming wrapped and the reason for that is that they are places of worship in the form of a temple and shrine respectively. Continue reading
When it comes to films set in Japan there are usually two sorts of movie; those from many decades ago which usually feature a geisha of some kind and those more modern ones where the protagonist arrives in Japan for some vague reason and is a ‘fish out of water’. Sadly, for me, ‘House Of Bamboo‘ is the former but I really shouldn’t have let my prejudices get the better of me for this 1955 remake of the black & white noir ‘Street with No Name‘ (1948) is actually better than most films of that era.
This was the first American movie to be filmed in Japan since WWII and the magical and mystical Mount Fuji lingers beautifully in the background (a matte painting perhaps given it really is captured so perfectly in the centre of the screen!) as the scene is set. The narration at the beginning of this Sam Fuller directed film informs viewers that it was filmed entirely on location in Japan with Tokyo, Yokohama and the Japanese countryside featuring throughout. Fuller makes great use of its locations and the likes of Ginza, Asakusa and the Great Buddha of Kamakura are used in scenes along with other places in Tokyo and Yokohama which are impossible for me to recognise given the facelift they have undergone over the years.
Herein lies the problem as I enjoyed it so much from a cinematography point of view that I forgot there was some kind of gangster story amongst the wide-shot travelogue of post-war Japan! It seems that too many things were sacrificed in the name of capturing the broad vision. In fact, making out who is who, is not so easy as there are rarely ever any close-up shots of the main players or was this because Robert Ryan only ever had one facial expression!
‘House Of Bamboo‘ is a tale of undercover cop Eddie Kenner (Robert Stack) who tries to infiltrate a gang and ultimately take them down thus proving that Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan) is the man behind a protection racket that rules the capital’s numerous pachinko parlours and commit bank robberies, knock off jewellery stores and rob trains carrying military ammunition. It has to be said that some of the violence is rather comical and the robbery capers are dealt with only briefly and without the expected rising tension.
When a U.S guard dies during the aforementioned train-heist in the foreground of Fuji-san, Kenner is despatched to save the day and ends up becoming closely acquainted to the dead man’s widow Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi) which all gets more air-time than it really merits. Furthermore, its all a bit corny and the dialogue is slightly cringeworthy and thankfully only a smattering of Japanese language is used throughout.
Anyway, Kenner somehow worms his way into Dawson’s group and later informs the police of a planned robbery but Dawson gets wind of there being a mole in the camp which inevitably leads to jealousy (aspects of homosexual tension!) and mistrust among the ranks, fingers of blame being pointed and set-ups being put into place, all of which culminates in a shoot-out at a great set piece on top of an amusement ride.
This story of deception, betrayal and ruthless criminality is a pretty looking movie which turns ugly. There’s only so far you can take ambiguous tension but overall its a slightly above average film which stands the test of time far better than I’d anticipated and shows Tokyo and Yokohama at a time when it was still on the brink of modernisation and still a world away from what we know and see today.
Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10
If you were to ask me who my favourite Chinese actor is then I’d probably have to say Tony Leung. Don’t read too much into that though as its only because he has appeared in nearly all of the (very small amount of) Chinese films I’ve seen such as ‘Chungking Express‘ (1994) and ‘Infernal Affairs‘ (2002) as well as this film which is famed for being the last film ever released on LaserDisc in Japan.
Anyway, its time to take a little detour from the usual western productions ‘set’ in Japan which are predominantly covered in this category. Running out of films to review? Nope, just padding the series out a bit!! The film starts, as it continues throughout, with some fun, fast paced action in Shinjuku outside the Tokyo Milano building where a fairly ridiculous action scene with Leung using his umbrella to fight off a gang uses up nearly nine minutes. The film then flicks to Las Vegas where Macy (Kelly Chen) is jilted at the altar on her wedding day by her fiancé Ken and so she journeys to Hong Kong to find him. However, she only meets interior designer Yung (Ekin Cheng) who decorated their apartment (and who also happens to be pretty good at kung fu too!) and is wanting his payment. Together they head to Tokyo to track down the guy but they aren’t the only ones!
They soon discover that Ken had many underworld connections and that some very bad men are after him and they want to use her in order to help find him. For some reason, private investigator Lin (Leung) and a bevy of Asian beauties are on hand to help them as everything converges in Tokyo (and Yokohama) amid endless contrived fight scenes with acrobatics. The slow motion and rotating camera work is all very much in the mould of your typical John Woo movie and I can’t say that these editing techniques are really my thing. This is all accompanied by some frenzied Spanish sounding latino music which I also wasn’t such a fan of as I didn’t feel it really suited the action on screen.
This film features Hiroshi Abe who is a rarity for me, a Japanese actor that I actually know and recognise having seen him star ‘Thermae Romane‘; a Japanese time travelling film which I saw on a plane sometime last year. All I can say is that his acting has sure got better over the last decade! In this film his gang boss character Takeshi Ito tries to be intimidating but ends up coming over as a nervous, foolish person with a bad cold! He wasn’t the only one I didn’t take to as I felt the main man himself Tony Leung (my favourite Chinese actor remember!) came up short and was maybe not as smooth and charismatic as one would hope for such a role.
A sequel called ‘Seoul Raiders‘ followed five years later which could have paved the way for a ‘…Raiders‘ movie to be made in a load of other Asian (or even world) cities but thankfully that never happened. For the 99p I paid for it I think I got value for money!
Tokyo Fox Rating 5/10