Bull's Eye of Love (1959)
Directed by Masahiro Makino

Bull's Eye of Love
Oshidori Kago
Starring Hibari Misora (Kocho), Kinnosuke Nakamura (Genta/Young Lord Genjiro), Katsuo Nakamura (Hanji), Ryunosuke Tsukigata (Chamberlain Hyobu), Sentaro Fushimi (Sannojo), Hiroko Sakuramachi (Chidori), Hitomi Nakahara (Oichi), Isamu Yamaguchi

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

Bull's Eye of Love was the first Hibari Misora film I saw, and thus far it remains my favorite. It's a sweet, simple "prince as a pauper" fairy tale, with Hibari's inimitable charisma and charm elevating it into something special.

The Young Lord Genjiro (well played by Kinnosuke Nakamura) has abandoned the samurai life and disguised himself as a commoner called Genta, working in construction as a plasterer with his friend Hanji. Genta has fallen in love with Hibari's character, Kocho, the sassy proprietress of an archery parlor. But Genta and Kocho are both waiting for the other to make the first confession of love, and their stubborn pride leaves the undeclared couple at a squabbling standoff.

Then a much more serious issue comes between them when Genta's true identity is exposed. Genta's former vassals come to bring him the news that his father has died and his younger half-brother Sannojo is in line to succeed him as the new lord. Genta would have no problem with being passed over for succession, but the problem is that the corrupt chamberlain Hyobu is conspiring to take power himself. Hyobu is arranging for Sannojo to marry his mentally ill daughter and turn Sannojo into his political puppet.

Reluctantly, Genta has to assume the role of Young Lord Genjiro and return home to straighten out the mess, leaving Kocho to grapple with the question of who Genta really is. Along with Hanji and the girls from the archery parlor, Kocho sets off on a road trip to follow Genta and settle their lovers' disputes.

The archery parlor motif, a recurring setting in chambara from The Million Ryo Pot to Zatoichi, is an absolutely perfect match for a Hibari Misora romantic comedy. The business is run like a carnival game where players try to hit targets for prizes, and when someone hits a bull's eye, a pretty attendant girl always cries out, "Atari!" Yes, that's the Japanese word that the video game company adopted. At various points during their long talks about whether they're in love or not, Kocho uses her bow and arrow to gently shoot Genta in the back, cupid-style. "Atari!" she says, wistfully. This theme culminates in a beautiful scene where Kocho makes an assault on Genta's royal procession, armed with her bow and arrow. The guards confront her as a potential assassin, and she holds them at bay under the threat of her harmless toy weapons. It's a poignant statement on the collision of games versus violence, love versus war.

I just love this movie and totally recommend it as the perfect starting point for anyone interested in learning about Hibari Misora. Her singing here is especially profound and delightful. In the DVD copy I have, none of the songs are subtitled, and I think it's actually best that way. In other Hibari films and other Japanese movies with singing, lots of time the lyrics come out clunky in English, and with a voice like Hibari's maybe it's best just to focus on the auditory beauty and not worry about the literal translation.

The Jidai-Geki Knights
Cinema