Warrior's Flute (1955)
Directed by Yasushi Sasaki

Warrior's Flute
Fuefuki Wakamushu
Starring Hibari Misora (Princess Tamaori), Hashizo Okawa (Atsumori), Ryutaro Otomo (Naozane Kumagai), Michiko Hoshi (Princess Katsura), Chiaki Tsukioka (Lady Tsubaki), Makoto Usami (Lord Tsunemori), Kyu Sazanka (Shigetora), Masaya Sanjo (Tomomori)

Toei Company, 91 minutes
B&W, 1.37:1 Academy ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

An 18-year-old Hibari Misora stars in this star-crossed romance set against the backdrop of the war between the Heike and Genji clans in the Heian era. This isn't a Romeo and Juliet scenario of lovers from opposing familes; it's actually a lot more complicated than that. Hibari plays Princess Tamaori, the daughter of the Heike clan's Lord Tsunemori, though she has never known her father growing up. Her mother Tsubaki was a consort that Tsunemori cast out when she was pregnant and has no interest in seeing again, but Tsubaki has decided the time has come for Tamaori to meet her father in Kyoto.

On their journey the women meet up with the young Heike clansman Atsumori (Hashizo Okawa). Tamaori puts on a show of singing and dancing in the inevitable Hibari manner, and she and Atsumori immediately fall in love. He plays his flute to accompany her performance, accounting for the movie's title. But there's a little problem: it turns out that Atsumori is Tsunemori's son by the woman he married after dumping Tsubaki. So our would-be young lovers are actually half-siblings.

Meanwhile, Princess Tamaori catches the eye the elderly retired emperor of the Heike clan and he wants her as his child bride, and the socialite Princess Katsura is maneuvering to marry Atsumori. While their relatives push them into accepting these politically advantageous unions, Tamaori and Atsumori resist. Atsumori claims that the brewing conflict against the Genji has him too preoccupied to think of love, and Tamaori rightly objects that her regal suitor is too old and creepy. But deep down the couple just can't let go of their incestuous desires.

The big plot twists in the third act is entirely predictable, but I won't come right out and spoilt it here. Warrior's Flute is a minor but entertaining film distinguished by some very nice cinematography, with the framing and soft focus in the intimate scenes reminiscent of Kenji Mizoguchi films, and a capable dramatic performance early in Hibari Misora's career.

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