Monday, November 12, 2007

Two from Hibari

Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s Hibari Misora was perhaps Japan’s biggest entertainer with her presence in film, radio, TV and stage. In the USA during these same decades we had giant stars like Crosby, Astaire, Kaye and others who fit this bill - able to dance, sing, act and tell a joke and were loved by the country. For some reason these bigger than life entertainers have become an extinct species and now most celebrities are safely cocooned in their respective art and have little appeal on a broad level. Hibari began as a child star helping to boost the morale of Japan in the post WWII era and continued in show business until her death at 52 in 1989. Not a particularly beautiful woman, Hibari won the audience over with spunk, charm and talent – a great singer and an appealing actress. Off the stage her life was rather a lonely sad one – married for a short while to actor Akira Kobayashi (Black Tight Killers) - she spent most of her life alone, but she radiated when the lights were turned on. She once said "I always sang about love, but I don't know if I ever knew what it truly was". In some ways her life mirrored that of another child star, Judy Garland, who never really found happiness as an adult and both took a bit much to alcohol to ease the loneliness.
Here are brief summaries of two of her films that I came across. Neither is likely rated very high up in her filmography – fairly ordinary bits of entertainment that were made simply to fill the need for her fans at the time and in truth her presence is all that is needed.

Before that though, here are some pictures of Hibari from a photo book of her.

Hibari 1

Hibari 2

Hibari 3

Hibari’s Tale of Pathos

Director: Watanabe Kunio
Year: 1962
Duration: 86 minutes

On the rural island of Sado, which lies west of Niigata, is a legend of two lovers named Omitsu and Gosaku. Gosaku was an outsider who had landed ashore on the island nearly dead and been nursed back to health by Omitsu and her father, but locals were not suppose to fall in love with those from outside and Omitsu sings “Don’t love a man from another land. You’ll end up crying like the crow.” According to legend, once Gosaku returned to the mainland a heartbroken Omitsu paddled the 60 kilometers from the island to Kashiwazaki in an open tub boat to be with her lover. On occasion people today still take up this challenge to see if they can do it. From this quick foreword, the film jumps into the present (1962) and a reenactment of the legend happens once again.

Kimie (Hibari Misora) is a tour guide in a jaunty cap who takes visitors to the island’s most scenic places (though likely skipping the mines where I read Japan used slave labor during WWII and felons before that) and often would break into song to entertain the guests. A big shot businessman Mr. Akiyama from Tokyo is on the island to consider building a big resort and vacation spot on the island and the local yakuza very much want him to as they are buying up land in hopes that they can make a financial killing. Akiyama leaves his son Shinje behind to check things out, but Shinje primarily wants to check out Kimie who he falls for instantly. Complications intrude their ugly heads into this simple love story as the head of the Ono gang also has his eye on Kimie and has a hold as well – Kimie’s unfilial brother has joined the gang and her father is deeply in debt to them. They urge her strongly to persuade Shinje to buy their land to build the resort and when this doesn’t go according to plan Kimie needs to escape them by boarding a small boat in a raging storm to make it to the mainland. This was an enjoyable little film primarily for Hibari, but also for good side characters such as Otaki the mistress of Ono and the brother who eventually of course is brought back into the family fold.

The Prickly Mouthed Geisha (Beranme Geisha)

Director: Koishi Eiichi
Duration: 86 minutes

In this one Hibari Misora plays a modern day geisha who has a reputation among the clientele for not liking men very much and refusing to provide any of the “extras” they so want to get from the women in this profession. The viewer is introduced to the character when she stops three bullies from harassing a woman by smacking them and declaring to them “I am Koharu from Yanagibashi. Don’t take me lightly”. Forced into the profession because of the debts her father has piled up, she isn’t thrilled to spend her life entertaining trashy men.

Her father is a master carpenter but much too stubborn and surly to keep a job very long though she does her best to continuously find him one. One customer gives her a tip and she takes dad to interview for the job, but discovers that the President is her father’s old drinking buddy from years ago and the two immediately begin arguing over rank and status and nothing comes of it. But the President has an eligible son who needs a carpenter and he joins up with Koharu’s father to work on a project – and not at all surprisingly Koharu and Kenichi begin to fall in love – but of course his father objects to him marrying a geisha.

There isn’t too much to hang your hat on in this one but it provides a few small delights – playing pachinko for canned food goods, bowling and of course the songs that Hibari sings in every film it seems.

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