House of Bamboo
Cast & Crew
In 1954, a military train guarded by American soldiers and Japanese police is attacked as it travels between Kyoto and Tokyo. During the raid, which is carried out with great precision, an American sergeant is killed, and the train's cargo of guns and ammunition is stolen. The crime is investigated by Capt. Hanson, an American, and Japanese police inspector Kita, who, five weeks later, are concerned when a thief named Webber is shot with some of the stolen bullets. As Webber lies dying in a Tokyo hospital, he is questioned by Hanson and Kita, and although Webber was left for dead by his gang during a thwarted robbery, he refuses to implicate his cohorts, who presumably are responsible for the earlier crime. Webber, who is also an American, does reveal, however, that he is secretly married to a Japanese woman named Mariko. Among Webber's possessions is a letter from an American named Eddie Spanier, who wants to join Webber in Japan after his release from a U.S. prison. Three weeks later, Eddie arrives in Tokyo and finds Mariko, who is initially afraid that he is one of the men responsible for her husband's death. Eddie gains Mariko's trust with a photograph of himself and Webber, then warns her to keep quiet about her marriage so that she will not be in danger from Webber's killers. Later, Eddie goes to a pachinko parlor, in which patrons gamble on intricate machines similar to pinball machines. There, Eddie attempts to sell "protection" to the manager, but when he returns to discuss the matter again, he is beaten and warned to leave by racketeer Sandy Dawson and his henchmen, Griff, Charlie, Willy and Phil. Intrigued by Eddie's presence in Japan, Sandy arranges for him to be arrested, and Sandy's secret informer, who is connected to the police department, obtains Eddie's rap sheet. Convinced of Eddie's aptitude for crime, Sandy invites him to join his gang, which consists of former American servicmen who have been dishonorably discharged. After his acceptance into the gang, Eddie secretly meets with Kita and Hanson, for whom he is working undercover. Needing help from someone he can trust, Eddie asks Mariko to live with him as his "kimono girl," although he does not reveal his identity as a military police investigator. Hoping to discover who killed her husband, Mariko resides with Eddie despite being ostracized by her neighbors, who do not know that her relationship with the foreigner is platonic. As time passes, Sandy grows to trust Eddie, although Eddie is shocked during a robbery when a wounded gang member is killed by Griff to prevent him from talking. Eddie is also wounded, but Sandy makes an exception to his rule of killing fallen men and saves him. Eddie finally informs the worried Mariko that his real name is Sgt. Kenner, and that he is investigating Sandy. Meanwhile, Griff, Sandy's "ichiban" or "number one boy," becomes jealous of Sandy's reliance upon Eddie, and Sandy relieves the hot-headed Griff of his duties. The next day, Mariko, who has fallen in love with Eddie, notifies Kita and Hanson about a planned robbery, but Sandy's informant, reporter Ceram, warns him that the police are poised to capture him. After the robbery is aborted, Sandy kills Griff, whom he mistakenly assumes tipped off the police. Ceram informs Sandy of his mistake, and Sandy retaliates by setting Eddie up to be killed by the Japanese police during a robbery of a pearl broker. When the plan fails, Sandy is chased by the police up to a rooftop amusement park, but after an intense gunfight, Eddie succeeds in shooting and killing Sandy. Later, wearing his military uniform, Eddie walks with Mariko in a Tokyo park.
Harry Carey Jr.
Sandy Chikaye Azeka
Kinuko Ann Ito
The Shochiku Girls Revue Troupe
James B. Clark
Frank Cory Jr.
Harry M. Leonard
Edward B. Powell
Stuart A. Reiss
Walter M. Scott
John D. Stack
Lyle R. Wheeler
House of Bamboo
House of Bamboo (1955) found Fuller sitting pretty, from a financing and distribution standpoint. For 20th Century Fox, he had already made the atomic era noir Pickup on South Street (1953) and the submarine drama Hell and High Water (1954), the latter his first experiment with Technicolor and Cinemascope. Offers were on the table, and they were good ones. Fuller being Fuller, he turned down the opportunity to work with Clark Gable on Soldier of Fortune and with Humphrey Bogart on The Left Hand of God (both 1955, both handed over to Edward Dmytryk). He quit preproduction scouting in Europe for The Story of Esther Costello (1957) when Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck suggested he helm the first Hollywood movie to be shot in Japan. The studio had dusted off an existing property, Harry Kleiner's screenplay for the inside man thriller The Street with No Name (1948), and asked Fuller to make it work for American-occupied Japan. This gave Fuller the opportunity to dust off an old story idea about American servicemen staging a daring bank heist overseas. Despite being pegged for Technicolor and Cinemascope, the project had the relatively low budget of $1.38 million. Fuller planned to get the most bang for his buck by shooting without permits, using hidden cameras to capture the flavor of urban life in Japan during the postwar reconstruction.
Robert Ryan signed on for the pivotal role of villainous racketeer Sandy Dawson after having heard only a pencil sketch of the plot over the telephone. To play the hero, Fuller considered Gary Cooper but decided ultimately that Coop's was too familiar a face to pass unnoticed on the streets of Tokyo. Director Budd Boetticher suggested Robert Stack, whom he had directed in Bullfighter and the Lady (1951). This was before Stack's rechristening as the star of The Untouchables series, making him all but unknown outside of Hollywood. Fuller screened Japanese films to find his leading lady and picked Shirley Yamaguchi, not knowing that she had relocated to America and was living as a socialite in New York with her Japanese-American husband, the sculptor and architect Isamu Noguchi. Fuller rounded out his criminal gang with busy character players Cameron Mitchell and Biff Elliot (I, the Jury, 1953), as well as two actors who would attain a level of cult fame in later life: Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire, 1970) and a pre-Star Trek DeForest Kelley. While Fuller and his crew were sensitive to anti-American sentiments during shooting, the production encountered no serious setbacks (apart from the chilly winter climate) and even charmed a free location out of the department store magnate who owned Nikkatsu Studios for House of Bamboo's climactic shootout. Almost unnoticeable in a supporting role as a Tokyo detective is Sessue Hayakawa, who would go on to international acclaim in David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
House of Bamboo did well in its opening weeks but faltered through the remainder of its theatrical run. Although it returned a slight profit on Fox's investment, it was considered a disappointment when weighed against expectations. Though the executives at Fox gave the green light for Fuller's Tigrero, a "pisscutter of a movie" about a big game hunter to star John Wayne, Ava Gardner and Tyrone Power, the plug was pulled while he was scouting locations. While the official reason was the difficulty in securing an insurance bond for shooting in the jungle, Fuller was canny enough to be able to read the writing on the wall. Requiring nothing so much as a free hand to tell his stories his own way, Fuller wrote and directed his next picture, Run of the Arrow (1957) for RKO. Fox handled the distribution of China Gate (1957) and Forty Guns (1957), the first two films from Fuller's Globe Enterprises, but his tenure as a big studio director was over. He was entering his rogue years, productive of his most controversial films - Verboten! (1959), Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964) the ones that vulcanized his reputation as an auteur with the French and stamped him at home as a cult director, a true American independent flying at once under Hollywood's radar and well over its head.
Producer: Buddy Adler
Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenplay: Harry Kleiner; Samuel Fuller (additional dialogue)
Cinematography: Joe MacDonald
Art Direction: Addison Hehr, Lyle R. Wheeler
Music: Leigh Harline
Film Editing: James B. Clark
Cast: Robert Ryan (Sandy Dawson), Robert Stack (Eddie Kenner), Shirley Yamaguchi (Mariko), Cameron Mitchell (Griff), Brad Dexter (Capt. Hanson), Sessue Hayakawa (Inspector Kito), Biff Elliot (Webber), Sandro Giglio (Ceram), Elko Hanabusa (Japanese Screaming Woman).
by Richard Harland Smith
A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking by Samuel Fuller
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"Film noir and Samuel Fuller's Tabloid Cinema: Red (Action), White (Exposition) and Blue (Romance)," by Grant Tracey, Film Noir Reader 2, edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini
The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968 by Andrew Sarris
House of Bamboo
House of Bamboo - Sam Fuller's 1954 Film Noir - HOUSE OF BAMBOO
"Holy mackerel, Darryl, now you're talking!"
Zanuck explained that the movie he had in mind was to be a reworking of The Street With No Name (1948), a semidocumentary film noir about an FBI agent infiltrating a criminal gang. Fuller rewrote Harry Kleiner's original script as House of Bamboo (1955), keeping the original structure but incorporating an idea that Fuller had unsuccessfully tried to sell to MGM years earlier. That story was about a group of war buddies who form a gang after WWII and "take Fort Knox using the same military maneuver with which they knocked out a pillbox on Omaha Beach." With House of Bamboo, Fuller made the criminal gang former GIs who work with military precision. He "moved the entire shebang to Tokyo, added stuff about Japanese contemporary life, threw in some sexual exploitation and interracial romance, and then, for some unexpected pizzazz, wrote a violent love scene between two hardened criminals. The core of the movie was about betrayal. Zanuck loved it, even the homoerotic scene with the two gangsters, which at the time was very daring."
Deciding not to use Gary Cooper because he would be recognized everywhere on location in Tokyo, Fuller instead cast Robert Ryan - largely because he was tall. Fuller wanted tall American actors so that they would contrast with the Japanese characters and look strangely out of place. For the FBI agent, Fuller cast Robert Stack on the suggestion of Fuller's good friend Budd Boetticher, who had just directed young Stack in Bullfighter and the Lady (1951). Fuller would later introduce Stack to his future wife, Rosemary. Shirley Yamaguchi, a Japanese actress whom Fuller said was a New York socialite at the time, played the female lead and Stack's love interest. (The actress was a huge singing star in Japan and later was elected to Japanese parliament.) A very fine supporting cast includes Cameron Mitchell and Sessue Hayakawa, one year before his Oscar®-nominated turn in Bridge on the River Kwai. (Hayakawa's voice was here dubbed by Richard Loo.)
With the resources of Twentieth Century Fox, House of Bamboo became the first Hollywood movie to shoot in post-WWII Tokyo. As Fuller later wrote, "I wanted to capture a certain mood in House of Bamboo that I hadn't seen in either Japanese or American films: the clash between our culture and theirs." Working in CinemaScope and color with cameraman Joe MacDonald (who also shot The Street With No Name), Fuller created a stunningly beautiful picture full of evocative locations, from pachinko parlors and dilapidated waterfronts to the Great Buddha and a rooftop amusement park. The constant visual clash between American gangsters and the Japanese architecture surrounding them indeed created a surreal and unique effect.
"Making a movie in Japan is a grand experience," wrote Fuller. "The light there is unique and wonderful. Colors come out looking postcard crisp. Even their blacks and whites are different, sharper and purer." House of Bamboo's opening sequence of a train hijacking with Mt. Fuji in the background reveals Fuller making full experimental use of these blacks and whites. In a 1969 interview, he explained that he chose to begin the movie with white-on-white visuals, then added a black train to create "a flavor of grim bleakness." As the titles started, he had the frame take on more and more color, little by little, until it filled the frame.
While Stack may be the movie's good guy, House of Bamboo is far and away Robert Ryan's film. He commands the screen whenever he appears, and despite his ruthlessness he also commands the audience's sympathy. To create this, Fuller used "humor. We introduce Ryan when Stack is hit through a paper wall, and these gangsters are sitting there. Ryan starts to laugh. That's the beginning of my sympathy for the heavy. I also told Ryan to never say 'my father' but to say 'pappy.' Right away you have to like any guy who says 'pappy.'"
Fuller would look back on House of Bamboo with great satisfaction. "What made me proudest," he wrote, "was that it broke race barriers implicit in American movies at the time. In the fifties, a white man still didn't fall in love with an Asian woman in Hollywood. In those rare films with interracial couples, the ending was usually tragic. I wasn't going to yield to that hypocrisy."
Fox's widescreen DVD is stunning. The film's colors are transferred with startling vividness and the print is clean and clear. Commentary by film noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini is informative and intelligent, though Ursini tends to repeat himself quite a bit.
Look for an uncredited DeForest Kelley (of future Star Trek fame) as one of the gang.
For more information about House of Bamboo, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order House of Bamboo, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
House of Bamboo - Sam Fuller's 1954 Film Noir - HOUSE OF BAMBOO
The working title of this film was The Tokyo Story. According to voice-over narration at the film's beginning, the picture was completely shot on location in Tokyo, Yokohama and the Japanese countryside. At the end of the picture, a written acknowledgment thanks "the Military Police of the U.S. Army Forces Far East and the Eighth Army, as well as the Government of Japan and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department" for their cooperation during production. Among the well-known sites used for location shooting were the rooftop playground of the Matsuma department store; the "Ant City" along the banks of the Sumida River; Anakusa, Tokyo's theatrical district; and the Fuji Sanroku railroad station, from which Mount Fujiyama can be seen. As noted in the film's pressbook, The Shochiku Girls Revue Troupe were from Tokyo's noted Kokusai Theatre.
A February 23, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Reiko Hayakawa, the daughter of noted Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa, would be making her film debut in House of Bamboo, but her appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. Although contemporary sources reported that House of Bamboo was the first major Hollywood film shot on location in Japan, other pictures had been filmed there previously, including the 1951 RKO production Tokyo File 212 (see below). Hollywood Reporter production charts also indicate that some sequences in House of Bamboo were shot in the United States.
Although studio publicity announced that a song entitled "House of Bamboo," written by Leigh Harline and Jack Brooks, would be featured in the picture, it was not in the print viewed. According to a statement by director Samuel Fuller in the pressbook, the interracial romance between "Eddie" and "Mariko" was "only recently...made possible by revisions of the Motion Picture Code, the American film industry's self-censorship agreement." Modern sources report that Fuller appears in the film as a Tokyo policeman.
A August 30, 1955 Hollywood Citizen-News article reported that the film was not well received in Japan, where a leading newspaper denounced the film's representation of the female lead and Japanese customs, dress and settings. The Japanese reviewer dismissed the film as "strictly a commercial item trying to sell exoticism to an American audience using Japan as a stage and a Japanese actress....Its manner of completely ignoring Japanese habits, geography and sentiment makes us feel quite awkward." House of Bamboo is a remake of the 1948 Twentieth Century-Fox film The Street with No Name, which was directed by William Keighley and starred Mark Stevens, Richard Widmark and Lloyd Nolan (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).
Released in United States 1998
Released in United States August 1997
Released in United States July 25, 1991
Released in United States Summer July 1955
Shown at Locarno International Film Festival (50 Years of American Film) August 6-16, 1997.
Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.
Director Samuel Fuller played a bit role.
Filming completed March 28, 1955.
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.)
Released in United States Summer July 1955
Released in United States July 25, 1991 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum: Sam Fuller Retrospective) July 25, 1991.)
Released in United States August 1997 (Shown at Locarno International Film Festival (50 Years of American Film) August 6-16, 1997.)