The Swordsman and the Actress (1955)
Directed by Yasushi Sasaki

The Swordsman and the Actress
Oedo Senryo Bayashi
Starring Hibari Misora (Koharu), Chiyonosuke Azuma (Gennojo) Ryutaro Otomo (Jubei), Ayuko Saijo (Oryu), Michiko Oe (Kasen), Shunji Sakai (Toroku), Kunio Kaga (Daikuro), Kyu Sazanka (Shuzen), Rentaro Kita (Hanjiro), Keiko Yashioji (Lady Okyo), Kazuo Kishida (Kinta)

Toei Company, 85 minutes
B&W, 1.37:1 Academy ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

This early Hibari Misora vehicle casts the teenage singing sensation as Koharu, an actress in a traveling theatrical troupe. A fellow member of the company named Hanjiro tells Koharu about a keepsake folding fan that his lost love Lady Okyo gave him years ago. It turns out this fan is a precious clan heirloom whose possession, for convoluted reasons, will determine the clan's leadership. Sword-slinging bad guys descend to capture the fan, and Koharu embarks on a road trip to Edo to return the MacGuffin to the rightful hands of Lady Okyo.

Along the way Koharu meets up with Gennajo, a samurai serving Lady Okyo, who is charged with bringing back the celestial fan. The heirloom changes possession with the frequency of a soccer ball, swiped by the villains, pickpocketed, swapped with fakes, stashed away and sold by junk traders. Keeping up with its whereabouts gets a bit tiresome, really. Hibari shows her inexperience in this role, with most of the plot being carried by the supporting cast. There are inklings of romance between Koharu and Gennjaro, but the 18-year-old Hibari is really too young for Chiyonosuke Azuma, who was pushing 30 here.

Ryutaro Otomo shows up halfway through the movie as Jubei, a ronin outcast from Lady Okyo's clan who gladly helps Koharu and Gennjaro in their mission. His boisterous presence injects some welcome energy into the movie. But the most interesting character in The Swordsman and the Actress is Oryo, a lady pickpocket who comically dominates her male underling. Oryo overcomes her jealousy toward Koharu to end up forming a personal bond. She is played by the charismatic Ayuko Saijo, an actress whose work I'd like to discover more of.

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