That Hibari Misora and Chiemi Eri were two extremely popular singers in the fifties, sixties, and the seventies is not only evident by the amount of records they sold, but also by the fact both singers regularly appeared on tv-shows and performed in many movies. Their popularity even spawned a duology called the Travels of Hibari and Chiemi directed by Tadashi Sawashima. Today, we explore the second part of this duology, The Lovebird’s 1000 Ryo Umbrella (1963).
Every day, Toshi (Chiemi Eri), the loyal servant of princess Kimi (Hibari Misora), has to test her meals for poison. Yet, while she loves chef Kazuma’s food and secretly harbours feelings for him, Princess kimi, who is set to marry lord Matsudaira soon, has not been able to eat at all lately. With her refusal of food, she rebels against her arranged marriage and the rules and ideals she is subjected to. The day before she is to be formally introduced to the lord, she manages to escape the inn she and her servants were staying. Dobashi finds no other solution that forcing gourmet Toshi to act as princess Kimi until she has been found.
Travels of Hibari and Chiemi 2: The Lovebird’s 1000 Ryo Umbrella might not be a sequel in the traditional sense – that is at the level of the narrative, but it is thematically speaking a continuation. This film is, just like The Tumultuous Journey, constructed around the desire to find a woman’s happiness, to attain happiness in a marital union based on love. Can Hibari and Chiemi, in The Lovebird’s 1000 Ryo Umbrella, finally find a way to satisfy their desire for marital happiness?
Princess Kimi, as the opening of the narrative beautifully underlines, is marked by a subjective conflict. This conflict is born from the clash between the consciousness of her own object-position – within the feudal political structure, she is merely an object to be exchanged through marriage – and her desire to have the kind of subjective freedom Toshi has to fall in love with whomever touches her heart and stomach.
Yet, Kimi fails to realize that, despite her romantic freedom, Toshi struggles to confess her love for her beloved chef. Her romantic bashfulness, in fact, compels her to say the opposite of what she truly wants to say in front of him. The praise she so longs to give him for his cooking – a praise she easily vocalize in front of princess Kimi, turns into vile comments when in front of him. Toshi might thus have the freedom to fall in love with whomever she wants, her unconscious complex (i.e. I’m might not be good enough for him) short-circuits any attempt to form a romantic bond with her beloved. Will she be able to overcome her inhibition and succeed in attaining her female happiness?
Toshi, on the other hand, struggles to understand Kimi’s suffering. She is, in a certain way, blinded by the way Kimi, as object-of-exchange, is well-cared for. She is so dazzled by the sumptuous meals made solely for her, the refined and luxurious clothes she is able to wear every day, the pleasures she can ‘freely’ indulge in, … etc., that she fails to see that this beautiful decorated bird is radically caged and forbidden to have any kind of subjective want or desire (Narra-note 1).
By escaping the claws of the patriarchal clan who wants to exchange her for power, Kimi is suddenly able to freely taste the pleasures of the common world (e.g. drinking sake, joining festivals, … ) and the more unrefined and the aggressive ways and cultural practices of these commoners (e.g. the way they approach attractive women, different speech-patterns and rhythms, … etc. ). Yet, can she, while wandering through the streets and field of medieval Japan, find someone to fall in love with? Can she, at least, temporary indulge in such kind of doomed love?
Toshi, who is forced to stand-in for the missing princess, is quickly confronted with the fact that the riches that surround the princess are nothing more than the bars to keep this princess ‘happily’ confined and that the princess’ function within such patriarchal society necessitates that one give up one’s subjectivity and desires. Yet, maybe this experience will allow her to overcome the idealisation of the princess’ position and annul her own romantic inhibition.
The composition of The Lovebird’s 1000 Ryo Umbrella is, just like The Tumultuous Journey’s, highly dynamic but a quite straightforward affair. Yet, with his composition, Sawashima proves that he knows how to serve what the spectator desires in a satisfying way. Moments of comedy (verbal or visual) do no fail to put a smile on the spectator’s face and the light-hearted action sequences succeeds in pleasing audiences.
Static moments in the composition allow Hibari Misora and Chiemi Eri to charm the spectator with their presence and please the audience with their elegantly delivered moments of over-acting (e.g. expressive facial expressions, … etc.) (Comedy-note 1). Yet, some spectators might lament that The Lovebird’s 1000 Ryo Umbrella does not exploit the chemistry between the actresses as much as The Tumultuous Journey.
As was the case in The Tumultuous Journey, the musical moments are seamlessly integrated into the visual rhythm of Sawashima’s composition and the fabric of the narrative. Many songs reverberate the desires of princess Kimi and servant Toshi in an elegant way and the visual decorations (e.g. the presence of back-up dancers, a sudden colourful background, …etc.) heightens the pleasure of these sequences for the spectator and gives their desires, when expressed through song, a colourful and elegant visual support (Narra-note 2).
The Lovebird’s 1000 Ryo Umbrella is, just like The Tumultuous Journey, is highly enjoyable narrative that delivers heart-warming light-hearted moments, comical action-sequences, and touching musical moments. Sawashima, furthermore, ensures that Toshi and Kimi’s search for female happiness finds a touching and satisfying resolution.
Narra-note 1: The fact that princess Kimi is a caged object who is refused any kind of subjective desire is not only underlined by the repeated reminders by Dobashi to act and behave like a princess should, but also by the tight travel schedule she is subjected to. As a princess, there is simply no space for her subjectivity.
Comedy-note 1: In this narrative, minor characters play a more important role in delivering comedy and light-hearted moments
Narra-note 2: The first musical sequence, for instance, does not only echo Toshi’s desire to establish a romantic bond with her beloved chef, but also highlights Kimi’s desire to be able to fall in love with whomever she wants.