Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Samurai Fuller

Since Sword of Doom made us think of a Sam Fuller samurai movie, we decided to watch a real Japanese Sam Fuller movie, House of Bamboo. It was shot in Japan, but in color, not black and white, and Richard Widmark wasn't in it to play a crazy-eyed killer.

Instead, we have Robert Stack, in occupied Japan to investigate a gang that has been hijacking Army arms shipments with military precision. He goes undercover as the friend of a dead gangster, befriending his Japanese girlfriend (Shirley Yamaguchi). He works his way into the circle of a criminal mastermind Robert Ryan, whose runs a string of pachinko parlors as a front. Ryan and Stack play true to type, with Stack a tough-guy stiff and Ryan a dangerous psycho.

This isn't really much of a noir, and not just because it is in color. There isn't much mystery, and the psychological depth is mostly around Ryan's feelings for his lieutenants, including new guy/teacher's pet Stack. The rest is police procedural, Stack and Yamaguchi's romance and Tokyo travelogue. For me, the best part is the travelogue.

It's pretty cool to see 1955 Tokyo, the Ginza, pachinko parlors, police stations, and rented rooms. There's a certain amount of the same old "Japanese sure bathe funny" stuff - Yamaguchi offers to give Stack a bath, which offends his delicate sensibility. And Mt. Fuji isn't really so prominent from Tokyo - even on a (rare) clear day, it's just a little peak on the horizon.

And, bonus, DeForest Kelley (Bones) plays a henchman, and silent filmstar Sessue Hayakawa plays a policeman.

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