Heavenly Dragon (1960)
Directed by Eiichi Kudo

Heavenly Dragon
Tenryu haha koi gasa
Starring Hibari Misora (Shintaro/Oharu), Tomisaburo Wakayama (Kanbei), Ryuji Shinagawa (Seinosuke), Isao Yamagata (Boss Kumagoro), Haruo Tanaka (Yoshimatsu), Michiko Hori (Ocho), Kunio Kaga (Deputy), Yataro Kurokawa (Daisaku), Hiroshi Mizuno

Toei Company, 89 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

Yes, indeed: Eiichi Kudo, best known for hardcore cruel jidai-geki classics like Thirteen Assassins, also directed his share of Hibari Misora movies. Heavenly Dragon is actually a bit more heavy-duty than Hibari's typical musical comedy vehicle, but no one should expect a full-on Kudo epic.

The star's familiar gimmicks are on display as we get a Hibari dual role plus a Hibari gender bender. She plays both Shintaro and Oharu, the son and daughter of a lumber merchant who dies in an apparent accident. The fun-loving Shintaro refuses to take over the family business, choosing to join Boss Kumagoro's yakuza gang instead of becoming a merchant. What Shintaro doesn't realize is that Kumagoro actually murdered his father, and the evil boss frames Shintaro with the murder of a police officer to get him out of the way and take over his family's business. Kumagoro intends to seal the deal by making Oharu marry his oafish brother while Shintaro is imprisoned.

Hibari does a respectable job in the male leading role, with her Oharu relegated to supporting status. But really, it's hard to get as emotionally invested in Shintaro's drama as we might if it was Kinnosuke Nakamura or Hashizo Okawa playing the part. It doesn't help when the couple of songs Hibari sings are as Shintaro, with that magnificent, undisguisable voice of hers undercutting any illusion of manliness.

Tomisaburo Wakayama is billed as the co-star, though it's disappointing that he's not much of a presence until the third act. He plays a mysterious samurai named Kanbei who tags along with Shintaro on his journey home to confront Kumagoro, with no explanation at all behind his actions until the very end. It might have been better if he'd been cast as Seinosuke, the love interest of Oharu, helping to beef up her end of the story. And supporting stalwart Haruo Tanaka puts in a solid turn as Yoshimatsu, a kind-hearted, stuttering yakuza who quits his allegiance with Boss Kumagoro in solidarity with his friend Shintaro. But there's a major plot hole with Yoshi: even though he was in on Kumagoro's murder of Shintaro's father, it's only at the end that he reveals the truth to Shintaro. But all through the middle of the move, Yoshi is hanging out with Oharu and her widowed mother, and for some reason never thinks to let them in on Kumagoro's guilt. Bad writing, or was such dire news just not socially appropriate to share with the womenfolk?

The Jidai-Geki Knights
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