The Lord Takes a Bride (a.k.a. Samurai Bride Hunter, 1957)
Directed by Sadatsugu Matsuda

The Lord Takes a Bride
Otorijo no Hanayome
Starring Ryutaro Otomo (Gentaro), Yumiko Hasegawa (Okinu), Hitomi Nakahara (Omitsu), Jun Tazaki (Higaki), Eitaro Shindo (Nagano), Takashi Shimura (Izutsuya), Kenji Susukida (Oshima), Masao Mishima (Lord Matsudaira), Eijiro Kataoka (Seikichi), Kunio Kaga (Akiyama), Kyoji Sugi (Gosuke)

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

The Lord Takes a Bride is a historic landmark as Japan's first color Cinemascope film. You might think Toei would have chosen a grandiose epic for taking this major step forward, but this is a modest, entertaining farce with the flavor of a Shakespeare comedy. Maybe the studio wanted to experiment and make sure they understood the new cameras before mounting more ambitious widescreen productions.

Ryutaro Otomo stars in one of those characteristic comic leading roles that only he could pull off. As the young lord Gentaro of the Matsudaira clan, he is approaching 30 years old and still unmarried, despite his parents' efforts to find him a wife. Gentaro isn't really into the idea of matrimony until he decides it's his filial duty, so he sets off on a journey to Edo in search of the best bride in the land. It's his first time outside the castle on his own, and the naive young lord has little understanding of how common people live and basic concepts like using money. A passing ronin named Higaki swindles Gentaro into pawning his fancy golden kimono and pockets the most of the money for himself. Gentaro then assumes the identity of a common ronin and guilelessly falls in with a crowd of thugs to earn his way on the road.

His gang gets hired by the crooked hatamoto lord Nagano to kipnap the two daughters of the wealthy merchant Izutsuya. Nagano is out to extort money from Izutsuya and curry favor with another hatamoto with an eye for the beautiful daughters, Okinu and Omitsu. When Gentaro realizes the nefarious intentions of his employers, he turns on the gang and sets Okinu and Omitsu free. Gentaro is so pure-hearted that he insists on returning the money the gang paid him, even though it was a piddly sum of one shu (which is about like 25 cents). His unsuccessful efforts to give back the one shu make for a nice running gag.

In gratitude, the Izutsuya sisters invite Gentaro to stay at their home. The younger Omitsu tries to play matchmaker and hook Gentaro up with Okinu, who has always dreamed of marrying a samurai. Okinu likes Gentaro but isn't sure if the grubby ronin is worthy of marrying into their merchant family. As their unconventional courtship progresses, Gentaro oddly focuses on a different obstacle besides social rank: his distaste for octopus. He declares he could never marry a woman who likes to eat octopus, but after he decides Okinu is the perfect bride he set out to find, he makes a heroic (and hilarious) effort to dine on the eight-legged delicacies.

To bring all the plot threads together, the conniving Lord Nagano gets word that the young lord of the Matsudaira clan is somewhere in Edo looking for a wife. Hoping to profit from the situation, Nagano hatches a plot to get an imposter posing as Gentaro into an arranged marriage with Okinu. To play the imposter he hires Higaki, the ronin who fleeced Gentaro on the road.

The story plays out in a predictable fashion, but it all remains fun thanks to the great cast. Ryutaro Otomo is the all-time best in these "prince and the pauper" roles, always smiling and maintaing a sunny joie de vivre, even during the fight scenes. Yumiko Hasegawa and Hitomi Nakahara are lovely and charming as the sisters, and the venerable Takashi Shimura puts in a nice cameo as their merchant father. A funny little offbeat flick that stands as an unlikely footnote in the history of Japanese cinema.

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