Flowers on the Road (1960)
Directed by Eiichi Kudo

Flowers on the Road
Hanakago dochu
Starring Hibari Misora (Oyae), Satomi Oka (Okiko), Chiyonosuke Azuma (Sanshiro Sakurai), Ryuji Shinagawa, Shunji Sakai (Ohana's father), Tokinosuke Nakamura, Kazuo Tokita

Toei Company, 86 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

Whereas Eiichi Kudo lent Hibari Misora some semblance of drama in Heavenly Dragon, this movie is just pure Hibari silliness. A road picture and comedy of errors loaded with musical numbers and slapstick, Flowers on the Road feels very much like a Tadashi Sawashima farce and sits comfortably beside his Travels of Hibari & Chiemi movies. And that actually makes sense, because before Kudo gave the world Thirteen Assassins, Sawashima was one of the directors he apprenticed under.

Hibari co-stars with Satomi Oka as Oyae and Okiku, best friends and daughters of wealthy cloth merchants in Edo. Both their fathers have fallen ill and have no dependable clerks to send to Kyoto on some urgent business matters, so the merchants make the dubious decision to send their daughters on the long journey. Oyae and Okiku are wary of the dangers facing young women traveling alone, but they prove to be horrible judges of character -- and victims of their own overactive imaginations.

They cross paths with Sanshiro, an honorable samurai in disguise as a yakuza on a secret mission, and immediately have him pegged as a marauding criminal who's killed ten men. When Sanshiro comes to the aid of an aspiring actress being molested at an inn, Oyae and Okiku wrongly conclude that he was the attacker and call the cops on him. Then they see an elegantly dressed woman and conclude that she must be the saintly wife of a rich nobleman, when in fact she's a notorious pickpocket. And the wacky hijinks ensue.

It's pretty funny stuff, but the road trip takes a strange turn when Oyae's father catches up with the girls, and Oyae has to stay behind to take care of him while Okiku travels on toward Kyoto with the actress Ohana. If Pops is so sick, why did he travel to meet them in the first place? It's as if Hibari Misora had another commitment during the filming and they suddenly needed to write her out of the second act. Okiku and Ohana aren't nearly as potent a comedy duo as they promptly get scammed and abducted by con artists. It's up to Sanshiro to rescue them, finally convincing Okiku that he's not such a bad guy.

Oyae and Okiku are finally reunited at the kabuki theater where Ohana's family troupe performs. This setting leads to the big comedy set piece, when Oyae and Sanshiro are forced to perform on stage as emergency replacements the scheduled actors who have just eloped, while men trying to kill Sanshiro sit in the audience. Oyae and Sanshiro end up making a mockery of the traditional kabuki romance story of Yosaburo and Otomi. The audience interprets their incompetent fumbling as satirical genius and howl with laughter, even the bad guys who fail to recognize Sanshiro in his shoddy "Scarface Yosa" makeup. It's a nutty play-within-a-play spectacle in the style of Tadashi Sawashima and Masahiro Makino. Flowers on the Road is nothing more than a silly piece of fluff, but an entertaining one.

The Jidai-Geki Knights
Cinema