Sen-hime, or Princess Sen (1597-1666), was history's first-born daughter of Tokugawa Hidetade, & granddaughter of the first Tokugawa Shogun. She has come to epitomize the heroism & beauty & tragedy of samurai women of the highest positions, whose lives were rarely their own.
She is honored by girls festival dolls & parade costumes, numerous films, televison dramas, manga comic books, novels, & historical biographies, & a Japanese iris is just one of several plant cultivars named for her.
Superstar Hibari Misora usually starred in musical films, either modern settings, or "singing samurai" light-hearted adventures more about peasant wanderers or yakuza than about samurai.
But Lady Sen & Hideyori (Sen-hime to Hideyori, 1962) is a thoroughly serious drama that does not rely on Hibari's singing & her surprising athleticism in swordplay.
This film projects a tale that is full of tragedy of grandeur & beauty & suffering. It shows Hibari as a great dramatic actress, & darned few of her films gave her this opportunity.
Hibari does have a sequence near the end where she proves a samurai wife can fight if need be, when she dances with a naginata halbard with such dramatic pose it is clear tjat very little keeps her from slaughtering members of her own machievellian family.
But in the main she sticks to the drama, not interupted either by the martial skills evidenced in many of her films, nor her singing skills around which the greater percentage of her films were framed.
When Ieyasu Tokugawa (Eijiro Otono) was building the power of his family, such as would last three hundred years, Sen-hime was merely one more pawn in his calculations. She was married off to Hideyori Toyotomi (Kinnosuke Nakamura) in order to establish a bond between the two families. Yet when that bond no longer served Tokugawa interests, & the Toyotomi became enemies, Sen-hime finds herself caught between clans as an abused pawn.
Historically speaking Hideyori fell a bit short of heroic, but there's a tendency in Japanese culture (as in western culture even if less often) to sentimentalize the loser of a battle. Also historically, Sen-hime's political marriage occurred when she was seven years old. But in this fictional account, Sen is a young woman in love with a heroic but doomed man.
The film is in other regards a mixed bag for historicity. It's true she was saved during the Fall of Osaka Castle, while Hideyori & his mother Lady Yodo committed suicide as the castle burned. It's not true Sen became a nun immediately after, for she was still a politically significant pawn, & had a second marriage & children before her eventual retirement as a Buddhist nun.
And since her "retirement" was to populace, urban Edo, she remained involved in intrigues even at that time, though sentiment & legend likes to imply she lived as some sort of sutra-spewing recluse far from the tribulations of government.
More in the realm of legend, but potentially with some truth, is the film's subsidiary story recounted of the brave samurai Naomori (Ken Takakura). His actual history doesn't fit well with the depiction in this film; nevertheless, this fictional version is appealing.
He saves Princess Sen from Osaka Castle when Ieyasu promised her as bride to whoever could get her out of the flaming castle.
Ken Takakura became so typecast as a yakuza star (really the biggest yakuza actor of all time) that he made very few samurai films. Sen-hime to Hideyori provides a rare chance to see him in samurai garb. His heroism in saving Sen-hime, Sen-hime's cruelty toward her savior, & his ultimate protest & demise -- these will not be events soon forgotten by the viewer.
Sen's whipping of the heroic Naomori probably never happened in history, but the legends that gather around her are often contradictory. Mostly she is remembered as a good-hearted woman of a turbulent time, but some tales speculate that she had a lecherous cruel streak, & was herself a champion at intrigue both before & a long while after the Fall of Osaka.
The battles at the fall of Osaka are lavishly staged, though it is the human drama that most registers importance in Princess Sen & Hideyori.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl