However this film was written, produced and directed by acclaimed and legendary screenwriter Hashimoto Shinobu who had written the screenplays to some of Kurosawa Akira's most beloved and brilliant works - "Ikiru", "Shichinin No Samurai AKA Seven Samurai", "Kumonosu-Jou AKA Throne of Blood" as well as other notable movies like "Nippon Chinbotsu AKA Tidal Wave", "Nihon No Ichiban Nagai Hi AKA Japan's Longest Day" and "Dai-Bosatsu Toge AKA Sword of Doom". With such an impressive resume of work, it is no wonder why Toho had put so much trust in Hashimoto going so far as to give him unprecedented carte blanche to make this film, even planning to have the film launch its "50 Year" Celebration for 1982 sight unseen.
When the film eventually premiered in early September after having been delayed from its original Summer release, it was a disaster. With its long-winded 2 Hr 44 minute runtime and confusing, almost surreal narrative, audiences didn't quite know what to think of it. Was it satire? Was it an experimental film? The fallout from the film's failure hit its director hard and Hashimoto retired from filmmaking for a number of years until resurfacing in 2008, adapting one of his early works "Watashi Wa Kai Ni Naritai AKA I Want To Be A Shellfish" (which he had originally made into a film in 1959).
"Maboroshi No Mizuumi" also failed to launch the career of its newbie star Nanjo Reiko, who Toho had plucked from obscurity from a pool of over 1627 hopefuls with the hope of making her a movie idol in the image of Matsuda Seiko, Yamaguchi Momoe, Yakushimaru Hiroko and Harada Tomoyo. Although tall, athletic and cute Nanjo unfortunately didn't have the magnetic star qualities of other idols and her inexperience was glaringly obvious on screen.
"Maboroshi No Mizuumi" seems almost like three different movies in one. The first part is a idol/romance film featuring Nanjo Reiko as heroine Osaka Michiko (Nanjo Reiko) who works as a hostess at a "Turkish Bath/Soap Land" establishment in the Ogoto Springs area of Shigaken in Otsu Prefecture just east of Kyoto. While at work, Michiko is known by the name "Oichi", her namesake being Oda Oichi (the younger sister of famed Japanese general/Shogun Oda Nobunaga) who was renowned for her great beauty and resolve. An avid long distance runner, Michiko/Oichi trains along the shores of Japan's largest lake - Biwa. She has an almost inseparable, spiritual bond with her dog Shiro, a white Labrador Retriever stray who she encountered when she first moved to Otsu. Highly intelligent and instinctive, Shiro often leads the way for Michiko/Oichi on her running trips. Michiko/Oichi's best friend at work is "gaijin" hostess Ann Ridgeway AKA "Rosa" (gorgeous American model Debbie Kamuda) who is secretly an undercover Intelligence Officer with an unnamed U.S. Government agency (the CIA?) While currently not involved romantically within anyone in particular, Michiko/Oichi is very close to handsome Kurata Osamu (Hasegawa Hatsunori), an Account Manager with a local bank that Michiko/Oichi has her personal savings account with.
Michiko/Oichi's idyllic life soon turns to tragedy when her beloved Shiro is found dead along Lake Biwa, stabbed to death with a large kitchen knife. Distraught and livid, Michiko/Oichi vows to find Shiro's killer. Thus begins the second part of the movie, a murder-mystery where Michiko/Oichi tracks down the elusive killer who turns out to be a famed Record Producer Hinatsu Keisuke (Mitsuda Masahiro) who plans on releasing a song inspired by the tragic death of Mitsu, a young lady attendant of Oda Oichi who is supposedly buried deep within Lake Biwa. Michiko/Oichi is determined to not only best Hinatsu (who is also an avid and skilled marathon runner) by outlasting him in a running match but also kill him by using the same knife he used to kill Shiro.
This leads us to the third part of the movie, a flashback story told by Nagao Masanobu (Ryu Daisuke), a Japanese Fue (flute) player who so happens to be a NASA Astronaut candidate and possibly the reincarnated lover of Mitsu, a samurai warrior by the name of Yoshiyasu who had taught Mitsu how to play the fue before she was convicted of treason and executed by Oda Nobunaga.
It seems that Hashimoto was trying to create his own fantasy opus comparable to Stanley Kubrick's influential masterpiece "2001 - A Space Odyssey" by incorporating element from Joe Camp's "Benji" and John Schlesinger's "Marathon Man" but with disastrous results.
The story is terribly dull and makes little sense. Why would Hinatsu kill Shiro in the first place?
The only part of the film that was actually any good was the flashback story regarding Mitsu.
Nanjo's Michiko/Oichi is a rather dull and uninteresting character. I would have rather had the movie focus on beautiful American Spy "Rosa" as she seems to be a much more interesting character (What was her undercover mission in Japan?) Debbie Kamuda easily stole the show from Nanjo in all their scenes together.
Until very recently "Maboroshi No Mizuumi" was almost impossible to find as it was not released widely to VHS tape or DVD let alone was it played on Japanese TV. It gained somewhat of a cult status as a curio piece of bad Japanese films along with such other botched film projects like Mizuno Haruo's (AKA Mike Mizuno) World War II farce "Siberia Chotokkyu AKA Siberian Express" and Sato Jyunya's "Quest For Fire" retread "Peking Genjin - Who Are You".