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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: House of Bamboo

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#1 of 8 OFFLINE   Michael Osadciw

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Posted May 29 2005 - 04:15 AM


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house of bamboo

Studio: 20th Century Fox
Film Year: 1955

Rating: NR

Film Length: 102 minutes
Genre: Drama/Crime

Aspect Ratio:[*] 2.55:1 CinemaScope
Colour/B&W: Colour by DeLuxe

Audio:[*] English Dolby Digital 4.0 surround[*] Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono[*] French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned: Yes

SLP: US $14.98
SLP: CDN $16.98

Release Date: June 7, 2005

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Starring: Robert Ryan (Sandy Dawson), Robert Stack (Eddie Kenner/Spanier), Shirley Yamaguchi (Mariko), Cameron Mitchell (Griff), Brad Dexter (Capt. Hanson), Sessue Hayakawa (Inspector Kito)

Directed by: Samuel Fuller

I’ve been looking forward to this second wave of Fox Film Noir titles since the last three were introduced about two months back. These well-known film noirs have been restored in both the audio and video departments and the results are fantastic. When House of Bamboo arrived at my doorstep, I was eager to begin my screening.

This story begins in a post World War II Tokyo when Americans troops still occupied Japan. It is 1954; a military supply train carrying American ammunition is the focus of a robbery. Stolen are guns and ammunition belts. Dead is an American soldier. Both the Tokyo Police and Americans are called to investigate. It appears the murdered American was knee-deep in organized crime and someone is needed to investigate it.

Off of the boat from America into the Tokyo harbour comes Eddie Spanier, a man we are to know has ties with the murdered man. With his weathered trench coat and battered hat, he’s trying to be the new tough guy in town. He was discharged dishonourably from the military and has a record of shady accusations. He’s the new man for Sandy, the leader of the team of violent thugs who robbed the train. Eddie is convinced to work with them on new projects.

With trust from a beautiful kimona girl, Eddie reveals he is an undercover U.S. Army Agent infiltrating the gang. As he gains the trust of these criminals, their relationships become one of lies and internal rivalries leading to danger and death, and a final conclusion of man vs. man.

Filmed on location in Japan, we can accurately see Tokyo as it once was; before the technology and the business that is booming today. The film has awkward narration in the beginning of the film and disappears partway through. The narration actually announces where the film was shot and then speaks about the plot immediately afterwards. It’s strange, but it’s there.

In typical noir style, there is the undercover agent, the thugs, the violence, and the beautiful mistress. It’s interesting to note that this film was based on the script of the other noir title in this wave, The Street with No Name. But rather than doing a remake, the script was changed around by Sam Fuller to make a new movie. This is a very entertaining film and like the other titles in this series, is highly recommended for its quality of story, acting, and viewer engagement.

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Presented in a wide 2.55:1 aspect ratio, the image is detailed and offers very good perception of depth. This is realized with the use of an HDMI connection between the DVD and the display device. I am now viewing the image using a Denon DVD-3910 DVD player through the top-of-the-line Monster M1000 HDMI cable and the image is strikingly good. Using an HDMI video link at home is a new reference for me because my comparisons are usually with analogue component video. A veil of noise has been lifted from unnecessary video processing and a D/A – A/D conversion and is clearly evident when switching from analogue component to Y/Pb/Pr HDMI for this title.

I’ve found that colours in this film are nicely rendered and contrast is excellent. Detail is very good although there is just a slight amount of edge haloing noticeable that wasn’t there with other titles I was playing around with when watching through HDMI. Aside from a little bit of film grain evident throughout the picture (that looked slightly digitized), this is an excellent looking disc.

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Encoded in Dolby Digital 4.0 surround (L,C,R,S), this is a modest surround track with a very wide stereo soundstage. The first thing that stands out is the directional dialogue and effects. Dialogue is spread across the three front speakers in relation to where the actor is on the screen. Sometimes the center channel is used to create phantom images between Left-Center and Right-Center. This works great if your speakers are along the same horizontal plane, but it might sound a little awkward if they aren’t. I choose to listen to this my turning my center channel to phantom mode on my Mirage LFX-3. This let my left and right speakers handle all of the imaging and I found this to be more precise on the soundstage and preferable.

Still, the dialogue isn’t always focussed either. Sometimes it bounces around across the soundstage as if the actor is moving when he isn’t. It seems like whoever mixed the dialogue couldn’t decide exactly where to place the dialogue so it shifts occasionally. It doesn’t sound thin or unnatural, but the Japanese guys’ voices in English are clearly dubbed and sound uncharacteristic of them.

The music by Leigh Harline sounds unrestrained, unveiled and excellent. It is spread out across the main channels and provides a bit of the ambience in the mono surround channel. There are very few, if any, noticeable effects coming from the rear channel. While the soundtrack never sounded thin, the bass provided in this soundtrack is just light enough to provide a bit of bottom-end fill.

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I will first comment on the excellent commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini who are acclaimed authors of film history. Much of their talk is focussed on the director of this film and they seem to have a bottomless pit of knowledge regarding Fuller and this film. It is definitely a must-hear commentary after viewing this film.

Like the rest of the Fox Studio Classics and the Fox Film Noir titles, there is the Fox Movietone News clips about a minute in length. I love these little clips and I’m glad they are consistently included on these discs. On this title, we get to see silent behind the scenes footage and a landing in Japan, all featuring Shirley Yamaguchi, Sam Fuller, Robert Stack and others.

This disc also has trailers in both English and Spanish as well as trailers for other Fox Noir titles such as Laura, Panic in the Streets and The Street with no Name. It’s interesting to note that the Spanish theatrical trailers looks a lot better in picture quality that the English trailer (and is also in 2.35:1 compared to 1.85:1).


House of Bamboo is a film of culture clashes of the time; showing the differences of Americans and Japanese cultures as Eddie hits the streets of Tokyo and as his relationship with Mariko strengthens. This is a slightly more violent noir film that is entangled with suspicion and betrayal. Much better than many new films today, this title is recommended.

Michael Osadciw
May 29, 2005.

Michael Osadciw

THX/ISF Professional Video Calibrator

Video Contributor

CANADA HiFi Magazine

#2 of 8 OFFLINE   Simon Howson

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Posted May 29 2005 - 04:22 AM

Thanks for the review, I'm wondering if you would be able to post a screen capture that's indicative of the transfer - you could just send it to Image Shack if you don't have dedicated server space:

#3 of 8 OFFLINE   Jeff_HR



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Posted May 29 2005 - 12:00 PM

Thanks for the review Michael. It confirms that my blind pre-order is worth maintaining.
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#4 of 8 OFFLINE   Derek Estes

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Posted May 29 2005 - 06:11 PM

I am quite excited about this release. This has been a great couple of months for Samuel Fuller fans, considering that House of Bamboo and Forty Guns were never released on VHS in the US, and many never thought they would see the restored version of The Big Red One. This will be mine!
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#5 of 8 OFFLINE   Joe Cortez

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Posted May 30 2005 - 11:42 AM

I didn't even know "Bamboo" was on Fox's release schedule. I'm definitely picking this up next week.

#6 of 8 OFFLINE   Brian PB

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Posted May 31 2005 - 05:57 AM

DVD Beaver posted their review this morning, including a number of great-looking screencaps.

#7 of 8 OFFLINE   Simon Howson

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Posted May 31 2005 - 09:02 PM

Yum, can't wait - a film noir in colour and widescreen set in Japan. Sounds great to me :-)

#8 of 8 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted July 11 2005 - 05:54 AM

I finally got around to watching this one last night. I noticed that the trailers had a few shots that were not in the film itself. One bit had Robert Stack's Eddie telling Shirley Yamaguchi's Mariko that they will kill him if she doesn't say she knows him. In the film proper, after slapping her, he just asks her if he was there earlier in the day or not without any exposition. I think there was also a brief shot of Robert Stack in a Japanese bathtub that was different than any of the shots that appeared in the film itself, too. Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

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