In a mythical Japan, Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor, has been appointed Lord High Executioner and must find someone to execute before the arrival of the ruling Mikado. He lights upon Nanki-Poo, a strolling minstrel who loves the beautiful Yum-Yum. But Yum-Yum is also loved by Ko-Ko, and Nanki-Poo, seeing no hope for his love, considers suicide. Ko-Ko offers to solve both their problems by executing Nanki-Poo, and an agreement is reached whereby Ko-Ko will allow Nanki-Poo to marry Yum-Yum for one month, at the end of which Nanki-Poo will be executed, in time for the arrival of the Mikado. But what Ko-Ko doesn't know is that Nanki-Poo is the son of the Mikado and has run away to avoid a betrothal to an old harridan named Katisha. The arrival of the Mikado brings all the threads of the tale together.Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
With the exception of American radio tenor Kenny Baker, the members of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company are the cast of this filmed production of the Mikado. It was the first technicolor film done in the United Kingdom although in that same year, much better use of color was made in The Four Feathers.
A lot of history has passed since The Mikado made its debut in the 1880s. At that time Japan was considered the most exotic place on earth and with good reason. In 1853, the American expedition under Commodore Matthew Perry forcibly opened Japan to the world. Up to that time they had almost completely isolated themselves from the west for over 200 years. Westerners who found there way there, never returned. Only the Dutch had extremely limited trading facilities in Japan for years.
When they did open up, the curiosity of the west was unbounded on both sides of the Atlantic pond. In time the British would sign a treaty of alliance to protect each other's Far East interests. When that treaty was not renewed in 1923 it eventually set the two powers on a course for war.
But in the 1880s Great Britain was fascinated by things Japanese and Gilbert&Sullivan scored a big old satirical hit with The Mikado. If the music and manners of the cast sound British it's because from the safety of a land during the Middle Ages, the battling partners could get a few barbs in about British society and politics from a very firm safety net. The way Pooh-Bah collects offices and honors with the accompanying salaries was very much in line with the way the British courts over the years rewarded service rendered.
Starring in the role of Nanki-Poo the Mikado's son who has run away because he doesn't want to marry some old harpy dad's picked out for him is American radio singer Kenny Baker. He did several films, most notably the Goldwyn Follies where George Gershwin's last song hit during his lifetime, Love Walked In, became permanently identified with him. Baker was a regular on Jack Benny's radio program, later replaced by Dennis Day. Later on Baker scored a big hit on Broadway with Mary Martin in One Touch Of Venus. No doubt for reasons of export the British producers chose Baker to have some recognizable name away from the D'Oyly Carte regular company who no one on this side of the pond would have known. Baker's light pleasing tenor does justice to the Gilbert&Sullivan patter.
The film does lack production values though, it's a photographed performance of the opera. I would have liked to have seen better and outdoor sets possibly, but this is a never-neverland kind of Japan.
The Mikado got an Oscar nomination for color cinematography, but was just another casualty to the Gone With The Wind juggernaut of 1939. Still it's an interesting film and Gilbert&Sullivan fans who just care about the music should be pleased.
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