A military supply train en route from Kyoto to Tokyo, jointly guarded by American military personnel and Japanese security forces, they prove ineffective when it is intercepted and armaments stolen; five weeks later, those guns are used in a hold-up in Tokyo but this time it is one of the robbers who lies dying in hospital; shot three times by one of his own gang and left for dead.
The only name Webber gave to the police that of his former army buddy Eddie Spanier, three weeks later, Eddie arrives in the city first to locate Webber’s secret Japanese wife Mariko Nagoya and then to hit the gaming arcades where he begins to cause trouble, shaking the owners down for protection money, undeterred by his lack of local knowledge or lack of fluency in the language.
Inevitably, Eddie draws the attention of the other players in town, Sandy Dawson and his gang of hoodlums who run the Tokyo protection racket just like they did back home Stateside, reliant on Japanese deference and enforcing a strict code in their sideline of armed robberies where any member of the team who is wounded must be killed rather than captured, silence ensuring security.
Released in 1955, House of Bamboo was one of the first major American studio motion pictures to shoot entirely in Japan, director Samuel Fuller’s followup to Hell and High Water for 20th Century Fox, Harry Kleiner’s screenplay substantially a rewrite of his own 1945 thriller The Street With No Name which had starred Fuller’s previous leading man Richard Widmark, the villainous role taken here by The Dirty Dozen’s Robert Ryan while infiltrator Eddie is played by The Untouchables’ Robert Stack.
Presented on Blu-ray in a 2K restoration as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series, that location filming is the greatest selling point of House of Bamboo which otherwise awkwardly transposes a conventional story into foreign climes with Shirley Yamaguchi the only concession in an otherwise Caucasian principal cast whose very distinctiveness would make it hard to operate an underground crime syndicate.
The snowy slopes of Mount Fuji in Cinemascope notwithstanding, House of Bamboo is edited with a disregard for tension and populated with characters as thin as the paper walls of the houses, widow Mariko in particular first trusting then falling for Eddie too easily, and while the new edition features two commentaries as well as a video essay by David Cairns looking over Fuller’s career at Fox, stating his preference of “impact over subtlety” the evidence indicates that his strength was technical precision and spectacle rather than as a director of actors.