Princess Sen and Hideyori (1962)
Directed by Masahiro Makino

Princess Sen and Hideyori
Sen-hime to Hideyori
Starring Hibari Misora (Princess Sen), Kinnosuke Nakamura (Hideyori), Ken Takakura (Hayato Katagiri), Jushiro Konoe. Eijiro Tono (Ieyasu Tokugawa)

Toei Company, 85 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

At first glance, Princess Sen and Hideyori might look like your typical Hibari Misora vehicle about a highborn lady meeting her Prince Charming. But this is actually a dark historical tragedy in one of the beloved singing star's bids to be a more serious actress, devoid of the lighthearted tone that both she and director Masahiro Makino are best known for.

Princess Sen is a well-known figure in Japanese history who has come to personify the suffering of female nobility. The granddaughter of Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Sen had been married off to the Toyotomi family before the two clans went to war. Sen survived the siege that wiped out her husband Hideyori and the rest of her adopted clan, but was never able to forgive the Tokugawa or find happiness again.

Princess Sen and Hideyori feels a lot more like a film by Hiroshi Inagaki to me than a Makino one, but that's probably because Inagaki worked extensively in dramatizing these historical events and figures. In particular there's Daredevil in the Castle released just the previous year, in which Inagaki portrayed Princess Sen as a more dynamic figure possessed of conflicted loyalties. By contrast, Hibari's Sen is resolutely a Toyotomi and harbors nothing but contempt for her blood relations. Even though she was sent away to marry Hideyori at the age of seven, she grew to love her husband deeply.

Professing concern for his granddaughter's life, the old lord Ieyasu Tokugawa demands that his soldiers spare her in the decisive attack on the Toyotomi's Osaka Castle. He promises to pay any reward for Sen's rescue. When an honorable samurai named Sakazaki saves her and promises Hideyori that he will see to her happiness, Ieyasu promises Sakazaki that he can marry Sen as his reward. Before we get a chance to find out how Sen feels about this, Ieyasu's advisors convince him to give Sen instead to the lord Heihachiro Honda as a good political move. The Tokugawas arrange to have Sakazaki eliminated as a potential liability.

Finding herself in a new arranged marriage, Sen makes her protests known in one way a woman rightfully can, by refusing to let Heihachiro in her bed. Ultimately she takes her rebellion a step further by deliberately choosing to become an evil woman. Since she can't escape her ties to the Tokugawa clan that she despises with all her soul, she will behave cruelly and have innocent commoners killed for the sake of tainting the Tokugawa name.

Some might criticize Hibari for turning in a one-note performance, flat and emotionally disconnected. But I think she pulls off this difficult role with a lot of nuance. When Sen is subjected to condemnation from a former Toyotomi ronin (in a cameo by prominent star Ken Takakura), you can see the inner conflict playing across her face as she recognizes the consequences of her wicked spite. This is one of Hibari's rare films in which she does not sing, not even as part of the soundtrack, although the story does permit her a dance number that serves a powerful dramatic purpose. Overall this is an admirable achievement for an actress who built her fame on music and comedy.

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