Echo in the Mountains (1959)
Directed by Masahiro Makino

Echo in the Mountains
Koi yamabiko
Starring Hashizo Okawa (Kogenta/Munisai), Keiko Okawa (Oshina), Satomi Oka (Omura), Kenji Susukida (Munetsuna), Yunosuke Ito (Itcho), Haruo Tanaka, Sonosuke Sawamura, Sumiko Hidaka, Jun Tazaki, Eijiro Kataoka, Kunio Kaga

Toei Company, 92 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

Echo in the Mountains is an exceedingly strange and baffling film. I've got to believe essential elements of the story either got lost in translation or require a deep understanding of Japanese history, because I really don't understand it. So here's my brief perspective as an ignorant American observer.

The story involves survivors of the Heike clan, a group that famously feuded against the Genji clan in the ancient Heian period. An enclave of Heike descendants has lived on a mountain in isolation for centuries, making them sort of the Amish of Tokogawa-era Japan. The Heike village is reputed to abduct young women from surrounding communities for human sacrifice, but apparently their real objective is to bring in new wives to expand their inbred gene pool. Or something like that.

Anyway, their latest victim, a beauty named Oshina, turns out to be the refugee daughter of a noble family. Her father was killed by an evil lord who tried to take their family heirloom, a shamisen called Yamabiko (meaning mountain echo, hence the title). The Heike prince Kogenta (Hashizo Okawa) instantly falls in love with Oshina and decides to marry her and avenge her father. Kogenta leaves the secluded village and runs into Edo to stir up a bunch of shit in front of the Shogun himself, which is grounds for execution.

This is where the story takes a screeching left turn, as we meet a local fencing instructor who just so happens to look exactly like Kogenta. Hashizo Okawa takes on a dual role as Munisai, who of course gets drawn into his doppelganger's drama. The story actually gets a lot more interesting when the down-to-earth Munisai shows up, and his associates offer nice cameo appearances from some favorite actors: Yunosuke Ito plays the compassionate artist Itcho who harbors the fugitive Kogenta, and Satomi Oka is her usual charming self as Munisai's pickpocket love interest.

But the resolution of the various story threads makes absolutely no sense. It's as if Masahiro Makino took the scripts for two different movies and stitched them together with no regard for logic, letting Okawa play two characters just to get double the matinee appeal out of him, apparently. The pleasure of seeing him and his quality co-stars is the only redeeming features of this mess.

The Jidai-Geki Knights