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Delightful samurai comedy / musical
Chung Mo17 February 2007
It's not often that one get's to find a surprise lurking in the DVD section but for me that's what happened here. Starring a very popular singer from the time who's probably all but unknown here in the United States and directed by a man who's work is also largely unknown here.

The movie starts at the foot of Mt. Fuji as dozens of tea harvesting woman sing their work song. A musical number! As the song finishes the women gather around the forewoman, played by Hibari Misora, and ask her to tell the story of Ishimatsu, the One Eyed Avenger. The film segues into the story and we meet Ishimatsu by the seashore talking to a turtle. Ishimatsu is a young man in his teens. One eye is missing with a scar across the eyelid. Ishimatsu is a rambunctious, head-strong loud mouth who gets into continual trouble. He's on his way to join a yakuza gang in charge of gambling along the highway. Lead by a kindly leader, played by Tomisaburo Wakayama, they allow Ishimatsu in despite his accidental freeing of a murderous thief the gang was after. Ishimatsu vows to capture the thief and while on the quest he encounters a blind child-princess on the run from a murderous samurai clan. And that sets up the plot.

The first thing that hit me was that the Ishimatsu is played by Hibari Misora! She really gets into the character and her comedic timing is superb. She continually made think that this is what one would see if Giulietta Masina played a samurai. Having a woman play a young man was not that unusual in Asian entertainment. In addition, much of the film is clearly based on a broad theatrical style from the Japanese stage but the direction is solid and very visual. The comedy is good and the action plentiful however not realistic. Wakayama never lifts a finger in battle which is strange considering that he would become known as one of the best sword stylists in Japanese cinema. It was probably for the best since Wakayama would make everyone else look silly. There are several brief songs plus a funny dance sequence.

I was very entertained, recommended except if you are a Giulietta Masina fan. The resemblance might be disturbing.
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