The Bulls Eye of Love

Year: 1959
 Masahiro Makino
Rating: 7.0

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.