THE ACROBATS OF DEATH (bored hatamoto: acrobats of death; hatamoto taikutsu otoko: nazo no nanban daiko) (1958 JAPAN) D: YASUSHI SASUKI W: KAWO IKEGAMI
The character of Hatamoto Taikutsu Otoko (or Bored Hatamoto) was created in 1929 by Sasaki Mihara for a series of popular novels. Hatamoto seems to be an independently wealthy knight-of-the-realm (in this case, 16th Century Tokugawa-era Edo) with nothing better to do than use his considerable intellect (and skills with a sword) to solve crimes (while wearing a brightly patterned kimono, a right dandy!). He also has a distinguishing scar on his forehead. Famed kabuki-turned-movie leading man Utaemon Ichikawa (who died in 1999) plyed the character in about 30 movies spanning the end of the silents to 1963 (that would make ACROBATS OF DEATH a late entry). The plot involves a travelling troupe of Chinese acrobats, political assassination and the persecution of Christians. Another interesting bit of historical background is the stuff about Tsynayoshi Tokugawa, the then (1690) ruling Shogun of Japan (the 5th ruling Tokugawa), and his ridicilous laws regarding cruelty to animals (particularly dogs). All "Chinese" characters are played by Japanese, and note the white guy in yellowface make-up! With Kinya Kitaoji (Ichikawa`s real-life son, as Hatamoto`s sidekick and protege, who later played Hatamoto himself), Yoshiko Sakuma, Mitsuko Miuchi, Akiko Santo, Junji Hikai, Atsushi Watanabe, Ichio Yamagata, Eitaro Shindo, what appears to be a forgotten manzai duo and a hunchback assassin. Forgettable in the long-run, but more than passable matinee adventure fare. Quite enjoyable.