The Bulls Eye of Love
This 1958 Japanese infectious confection comes from Toei in FULL COLOR and
TOEI-SCOPE! It is a samurai fairytale of sorts. A fairytale in which a corrupt
official is trying to take over a Clan after the leader has died by killing
the rightful heir and installing his weak younger brother while a mad woman
wanders the halls of the castle like Ophelia and a Lord pretends to be a
common plasterer to be with the woman he loves and at one point has to battle
40 assassins singlehandedly. Oh, and it's a musical.
Musicals are not the first thing to come to mind for most of us when thinking
about Japanese film, but they have been making them since 1933 and the director
of this film Masahiro Makino was behind the camera for one of Japan's most
loved musicals, Singing Lovebirds in 1939. But I gather that it was the 1940s
and 50's where musicals were at their most popular - similar to Hollywood.
There were three female musical performers who were huge stars - Misora Hibari,
Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura during that period. There were also musicals
being directed by Umetsugu Inoue who would move over to the Shaw Brothers
in the 1960's to direct a few classical musicals. From the few I have seen
Japanese musicals tend to be much less ambitious and grand than American
ones - you are not going to find the equivalent of Busby Berkeley fantastical
dance numbers or even a lot of dance at all. They generally consist of melodic
songs in solo or a duet or a few background singers that will rarely bring
the house down but are bright spots along the way.
Of those three female singers, the one I know best is Misora Hibari who was
simply an enormous star for five decades even though she died at 52 years
old. Many compare her to Judy Garland - a laser light on the stage but a
rather sad life off. I prefer seeing the similarities with Shirley Temple
at least when she was just starting off. Temple helped cheer up a nation
while The Depression was occurring and Hibari came to fame after WWII as
a 12 year old in films like Sad Whistle and Tokyo Kid in which she sang and
danced herself into the hearts of Japanese movie goers. She is enormously
appealing in those early films in top hat and tails and a crooked tooth smile
that was a national monument. And she never slowed down.
She made over 150 films of all kinds - musicals but also dramas, love stories,
adventure, samurai, detective. She apparently even made films in which she
plays a man; not a woman disguised as a man but as a man. She made commercial
fare. Popular for the people movies. I don't think she ever made a film with
Kurosawa or Ozu or Mizoguchi or any of the other classical Japanese directors
- she made movies that people went to see with their family. I am clearly
a big fan of hers - even have bought a lot of her albums. Her popularity
never crossed borders and I don't think any of her films have been picked
up by Western distributors but many are available on the gray market.
She is the star of this period film obviously. In 1958 she was at the top
of her game and film popularity. An absolute charmer. The spunky Miss Kocho
(Hibari) runs a small drinking establishment where the big marketing ploy
is that the men can sit around and shoot arrows at targets while in the company
of lovely kimono adorned women (a more interesting version of darts I would
say). I have seen this sort of establishment in another period film so perhaps
they really existed. She is in love with Genta (Yorozuya Kinnosuke) a simple
plasterer who hangs out with his friend pining for the love of Miss Kocho,
Both are afraid to be the first one to say I Love You. Complications find
the couple when two retainers of the Minaguchi Clan come looking for Genta
who is really Lord Genjiro that things have gotten crazy back home and that
he has to give up this life of a commoner and take on his responsibilities.
In the middle of all this Miss Kocho and her retinue of hostesses/back up
singers break into songs. A sweet little film though I was hoping for a different
ending. If I had been the director, this group of seven women who follow
Genta on his journey home and who are quite adept with bow and arrow would
have massacred the bad guys. At least that is how Miike would have done it.