Travels of Hibari & Chiemi: The Tumultuous Journey (1962)
Directed by Tadashi Sawashima

Travels of Hibari & Chiemi: The Tumultuous Journey
Hibari Chiemi no Yaji Kita Dochu
Starring Hibari Misora (Okimi), Chiemi Eri (Otoshi), Chiyonosuke Azuma (Yoriki), Minoru Chiaki (Officer Katayama), Shunji Sakai (Rokusuke), Haruo Tanaka (Seijuro), Isao Yamagata (Izumi)

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

Hibari Misora was such a massive star that the actress's real name frequently appeared right in the title of her movies, as the most direct of marketing. But it wasn't often that she shared that level of billing with a co-star. Such was the case with a pair of Travels of Hibari and Chiemi films she headlined with Chiemi Eri, a one-time singing group partner of Hibari's who was not as hugely prolific in films. These very silly and madcap movies are best appreciated by those already familiar with the "through the looking glass" world of Hibari Misora's jidai-geki cinema.

The plot, such as it is, is superficially similar to other Hibari comedies like Flowers on the Road, in which Satomi Oka played Hibari's traveling buddy on a nutty adventure. In this case, Hibari and Chiemi play Okimi and Otoshi, two girls working at a kabuki theater as"footwear maidens," running the station where patrons leave their shoes while attending the show. Okimi is severely nearsighted without the lenses she holds to her face like opera glasses, and Otoshi is said to be the scatterbrained one, although really the two seem pretty equally ditzy.

Through a series of misunderstandings, the girls get arrested in a police raid of yakuza trading in illegal drugs. It's rare to see narcotics-related crime in vintage jidai-geki, and quite a shock to see in such a lightweight comedy. At one point some lecherous lowlifes attempt to give Okimi and Otoshi some drugs to render them defenseless against sexual advances, but the girls are sharp enough to recognize the proto-roofies and reject the threat.

Alas, Okimi and Otoshi are not so astute in their dealings with the movie's various good guys. They become a huge pain (literally) for the hapless police officer Katayama, played by Seven Samurai member Minoru Chiaki, as they inadvertently screw up an undercover agent operation and repeatedly punish the lawman with head injuries. Poor Katayama sprouts a giant cartoon lump on his forehead, and in the manner of Chuck Jones Looney Tunes, his lump sprouts new lumps of its own with each successive concussion.

Once Okimi and Otoshi get out of the slammer, the theater manager Rokusuke (played by Hibari's lovable foil Shunji Sakai) kicks them out for being troublemakers. Thus we get the impetus for the girls to take a road trip in search of a new life, traveling disguised as male matatabi in the customary cross-dressing Hibari style. On the road Okimi and Otoshi manage to fall in love with the same man, the handsome Yoriki, without realizing it.

So we have a love triangle and the mystery of who's the secret boss of the drug-dealing yakuza, but all this story stuff is beside the point. The real meat and potatoes of Travels of Hibari and Chiemi are the singing, the dancing and the hilarious comedic set pieces with the girls running around in fast motion to the tune of "Yankee Doodle." In addition to the arrest fiasco, there is a truly bonkers chase sequence with various parties getting launched through the air via horrible editing and cheapo stunt work, culminating in Okimi and Otoshi crashing into the middle of the bad guys' hideout against all probability and logic. Then there's the climactic showdown at a construction site, which features Okimi without her glasses clambering around the building's framework with no idea that she's risking falls from vertiginous heights, just like Mr. Magoo.

In any typical film, Okimi and Otoshi's realization that they both love the same man would yield jealous hysteria. But here, the girls squeal and hug as if they've just learned that the both love the same flavor of candy. By their logic, they can somehow share Yoriki, and somehow that comes off as sweet instead of creepy and polygamous. This movie is very much a live-action cartoon, and if you can accept it in those terms, it's lots of fun.

The Jidai-Geki Knights
Cinema