Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 16, March 2008

Singing the Orphan Blues:
Misora Hibari and the Rehabilitation of Post-surrender Japan

Joanne Izbicki

  1. The time is the late 1940s; the place, a river bank in Yokohama, Japan, still only semi-rebuilt after its destruction by World War II American fire bombings. A group of homeless urchins huddle in a circle, playing a game of chance. One of the trousered players wears a cap with the visor rakishly pushed to the side and back, a popsicle suspended sideways in his teeth. A while later, a man approaches the child with the saucily perched cap and says 'Chibiko, sing us a song.' The 'boy,' it turns out, is a girl. She agrees and announces she'll sing 'Mournful Whistle,' written by her missing soldier brother and until then a tune only she and her brother have known.
  2. This scene is from the October 1949 Japanese film Kanashiki kuchibue (Mournful Whistle) and the twelve-year-old actress playing the tomboy was Misora Hibari in her first starring role.[1] Hibari was already known as a singer and had played supporting roles in four movies that same year. In this essay I discuss primarily the first of the twenty-five movies she acted in between 1949 and April 1952—the last three years of the Allied Occupation of Japan following the country's World War II defeat. Hibari played an orphan in several of these films. As with other orphan characters in Occupation era cinema, Hibari's orphan implicitly addressed ideological recovery from the demoralisation that followed Japan's surrender—a recovery defined by a changing perspective towards family dynamics.
  3. The Allied Occupation—in particular, the American apparatus SCAP (Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers)[2] and GHQ (General Headquarters)—aggressively censored all Japanese public media and literature from 1945 to 1948 and then less obtrusively until the Occupation's end in April 1952. Given the thousands of homeless children wandering Japan's burnt-out cities in late 1945, that censorship unsurprisingly included a recommendation to the Japanese film industry to 'Treat the subject of war orphans carefully.'[3] The orphan topic occurred in Japanese movies throughout the Occupation years and provided the narrative basis for several of Hibari's films, including Mournful Whistle.[4]
  4. Despite GHQ's prescription, however, orphan films became an arena for ideological conflicts and constructions that originated from Japanese sources. The movie orphan served as sign, metaphor and solution for two major disruptions in Japanese society caused by the war and especially the defeat: 1) the disconnection of the repatriated Japanese soldier from civilian society; and 2) the disintegration of the prewar conception of the family, insofar as it related to the notions of the Japanese state. The ex-soldier's alienation from civilian society occurred through the direct experience of warfare, shame for the defeat, moral confusion over war guilt, and loss of pre-defeat codes of masculinity. The pre-surrender notion of the family disintegrated materially through loss of family members and ideologically through the collapse of the pre-war metaphor of the state as family. The movie orphans as sign underscored the concrete existence of vagrant children on city streets; as metaphor they represented the orphan-like condition of the Japanese people who were no longer subjects of a 'divine' imperial father and were experiencing the truncated, humiliating citizenship of an occupied nation; and as solution they reintegrated ex-soldiers into society and—particularly in the orphan films of Misora Hibari—reformulated the family to suit the needs of the child.
  5. If this appears a heavy burden for something as ephemeral as a silver screen character—a child character, no less—consider that familial relations were a principal organising metaphor in the Japanese nation–state from the late nineteenth century to the wartime years. The term kazoku kokka meaning 'family state,' embodied this metaphor. The concept of kokutai, usually translated as 'the national polity,' ascribed divine ancestry to the Japanese emperor and joined with the notion kazoku kokka to portray Japan as a united people exercising loyalty and filial piety to their immediate parents but especially to their ultimate parent, the emperor. This national narrative created an image of an emperor who resided benevolently as a parent over his filial subjects and who descended from the mythical founding deities of Japan. From the time of the Imperial Rescript on Education in 1890, moral behaviour was defined officially as holding a filial posture and unquestioning loyalty toward the emperor.[5] While the Confucian roots of the notions of filial piety and parental benevolence had long been part of the social and political fabric of Japan, the Meiji period (1868–1912) expanded these notions into a paradigm encompassing a people united in a nationhood ideologically defined through a family metaphor.
  6. After the war and defeat, massive numbers of child vagrants signalled chaos in the organising metaphor of a vertically hierarchised family. Moreover, in the face of the emperor's 1946 New Year's rescript which shunted aside his alleged divinity, the sacrality—and by extension the heart and truth—of the national narrative of kokutai was cast into doubt. This disintegration of the family metaphor and discrediting of the pre-1945 definition of the Japanese nation permeates Occupation-era films in Japan—and not only those featuring war orphans. But the orphan films[6] in particular foreground family disintegration; the parent is either irrevocably gone or has deliberately absented him- or herself from the roles of nurture and guidance implied correlatively by filial piety. The Sovereign parent as described by the prewar national narrative—that is, a divine imperial head of state—no longer existed, and when the biological parent likewise disappeared, the child no longer had a national or blood parent to whom loyalty and filial devotion applied.
  7. Into this disintegration of the family metaphor and its narrative unity came the aggressive interjection of the Allied Occupation's democratisation project and its accompanying emphasis on personal rights and freedoms. This ideological incoherence compounded—and was compounded by—an urban landscape reduced to ashes, housing and food shortages, and an economy in shambles. In such an environment, the coupling of the extreme vulnerability of a radically displaced child with the potential for an intense, unprecedented experience of freedom as an unfettered juvenile converged to create a powerful trope for the disintegrating metaphors and reintegrative possibilities of the period. The cinematic orphan, unencumbered by the stark and dangerous realities of post-defeat urban life, could be stripped of the vertical, hierarchical family and relocated to a cleared and fresh landscape in which something like a family could be reconfigured in horizontal, democratic dimensions.
  8. What emerges in the movies is a kind of community of children in which the parent is absented or sidelined, or a kind of child who reconstructs a family to the measure of her own desires, the latter being the hallmark of Misora Hibari's early films. The orphan does not become wholly self-sufficient or untouched by need, but rather, the child instead of the parent becomes the repository of moral rectitude and social resourcefulness—the exact reverse of the moral hierarchy of filial piety and parental benevolence.
  9. The orphaned child in early post-surrender cinema (1945–1948) rehabilitated soldiers and promoted equality in new family formats while struggling to survive in the chaos of postwar Japan. In the later Occupation years (1949–1952), the orphan in Misora Hibari's films continued the rehabilitating mission and the democratisation of the family but her films began to de-emphasise the urban ruins appearing in many of the earliest post-surrender films. This later orphan, while still a waif, became rooted in the fantasy world of studio sets and theatrical stages and tied to boundless hope and economic success through entertainment.
  10. Hibari was born Kato Kazue on 29 May 1937 to a couple who ran a fish shop in Yokohama. By the time she was six she had been singing to entertain friends and acquaintances. She professionally debuted as a singer at nine years of age, and at eleven she assumed the stage name by which she was thenceforth known, Misora Hibari (literally, 'a lark in a beautiful sky'). Hibari played her first starring role in Mournful Whistle, her fifth film, released in October 1949. In March 1952, a month before the Occupation officially ended and a mere three years after her first movie, Hibari's twenty-fifth film was released.[7] Hibari was a working girl.
  11. With those twenty-five films and her recordings, she was on her way to becoming one of the biggest pop culture stars in Japanese history. Her initial appeal related in good part to her status as a symbol of familiarity and empathy, hope and possibility for her fans amidst the bleak years of the Occupation. As Alan Tansman states, 'Hibari's charismatic appeal...was especially strong because the social order seemed uncertain or ambiguous.'[8] While Hibari's films share features with orphan movies made between 1945 and 1948, in the earlier films the new family centred on groups of orphans either in institutions or children-built communities. The families in Hibari's movies revert back to a nuclear form but are child- rather than parent-centred. Her movies carry a particular mark of innocence and optimism and by the early 1950s reflect significant postwar recovery.
  12. The orphan in Hibari's movies has no history of transgression. In Mournful Whistle for example, Hibari plays a streetwise tomboy, but is not a thief, never erupts into rage, violence, or rudeness or even hostility to enemies. In contrast, postwar children in many pre-1949 movies have a damaged innocence: they often steal out of necessity, fight from rage or self-defence, bully out of fear and insecurity or for survival,[9] although the reasons for their transgressions are understandable, even justified, and the children are proven corrigible and desirous of socially acceptable lives. These orphans emerge from poverty and marginalisation through physical labour, build character by withstanding trials, conquer rage and violence to attain and define a moral standard. They attain modest personal satisfaction, moral rectitude, self-respect and some economic security.
  13. In contrast, the Hibari-character's unsullied innocence leads to lucky encounters with caring adults and her singing talent moves her to fame and success, affection and respect and she usually emerges from poverty and obscurity. Although sadness is a major feature of the stories, she has many enjoyable moments, and usually achieves happiness by the end of each film.
  14. Whether in the early Occupation years or in the later films featuring Hibari, the character of the orphan's labour is key to how the films negotiate the country's defeat. In the orphan films whether one works and what kind of work one does, function as important markers of class, status, gender and even morality. The children shine shoes, gather cigarette butts to salvage and sell the remnant tobacco, drag magnets to collect old iron nails, haul goods, work fields. In a 1993 article in the journal Sekai, Kawamoto Saburo argues that Hibari's movie labours were the same as the hard physical work done by orphans in earlier films.

      Exactly as in the example of the war orphans in Hachi no sū no kodomotachi who cut wood, work in construction sites, etc., the girl Misora Hibari works the same by singing her songs. When compared to ordinary labour singing songs fails to evoke the image of work that makes one sweat, but for Misora Hibari singing was in fact work more than performing art.[10]

  15. However, labour in the Hibari films takes on special features. Although from childhood through adulthood Misora Hibari the person was incredibly serious and hard-working,[11] her characters in the childhood films seem to earn affection, aid and money almost effortlessly. Like other movie orphans, the Hibari-character works at some point in almost every movie. As Kawamoto points out, her work diverges from other movie orphans in that she earns money as an entertainer, specifically by singing—but like them, she must work to survive. However, the difference in her labour goes beyond the issue of how physically difficult the work is; the money the Hibari-character earns supports not only herself sufficiently (and sometimes amply) but also one or more of the adults with whom she associates, and her income is a major source of her power.
  16. Moreover, unlike previous movie orphans, although the Hibari-character makes a difference in the lives of the adults around her socially and morally, she seldom changes significantly by the end of each movie. As with children in virtually all the orphan films, she, too, serves as a means by which adults remoralise themselves. But the Hibari-character does not go through her own maturation process as the adults around her rehabilitate. She is what she should be from film's beginning to end: innocent, naturally generous and caring, cheerful but susceptible to sadness and loneliness, resourceful, and sensitive to the feelings of others. Even when the plot changes her from tomboy to feminised little girl or poised performer she seems more to have learned just another performance for her repertoire than actually changed. Hibari as orphan and vagrant never gives the spectators pause about her worthiness of their affection and sympathy (as do the thieving, scrappy children of the earlier Occupation films). It is not surprising that she has evoked comparison with Shirley Temple's childhood characters on the screen.
  17. The 1949 film Mournful Whistle emblemises the complex ways the Hibari-orphan related to the adults within the diegesis, as well as to the spectator in the movie theatre. In the film, the Hibari-character, Mitsuko, revitalises both her older brother Kenzo and the kindly middle-aged man Fujikawa who takes her in when she is homeless. Moreover, she saves Fujikawa's daughter Kyoko from kidnappers who want to implicate her against her will in a smuggling scheme. The story develops as follows.
  18. A young, repatriated soldier named Kenzo seeks his little sister Mitsuko (Hibari) in Yokohama, unaware that she lives among day labourers and other vagrant children in the port. Unsuccessful in finding her and unable to work at his prewar job (playing the piano) because of a war injury to his right hand, the penniless soldier becomes drunk and is thrashed when he can't pay his bill. The beer hall's waitress, Kyoko, intervenes to stop the beating. Outside the beer hall, the drunken Kenzo is helped away by a well-dressed man.
  19. That same evening the kindly young woman Kyoko and her father, Fujikawa, find Mitsuko sleeping in a concrete construction pipe and they take her in. As the story moves toward the reunion of Kenzo and Mitsuko, a bevy of misfortunes befalls all the characters and interweaves the lives of Kenzo and Kyoko. Kenzo unwittingly becomes involved in a smuggling gang and the ringleader kidnaps Kyoko to force her also to participate in his smuggling schemes. Her father, a former concert violinist embittered about the eclipse of classical music by a ubiquitous postwar swing, falls ill and blind, and is almost killed when their makeshift home burns to the ground. Mitsuko, now his sole helper while the kidnapped Kyoko is missing, leads him around the entertainment district where he plays his violin on street corners, acquiring meagre earnings. One evening, lured by the jazzy music emanating from one of the cabarets, the Orion, Mitsuko enters and spontaneously starts singing to the dance music: the owner is charmed and the patrons shower her with tips. Meanwhile, Kenzo has rescued Kyoko and exposed the smuggling ring to the police: he is jailed for his efforts. Kyoko seeks Mitsuko and her father in the entertainment district and hears Mitsuko singing, but the smugglers spot and grab her again. Mitsuko chases their car futilely, then turns to her old canal buddies for help. The labourers give chase along the docks, the police close in from the water, the villains are caught, Kyoko is finally freed. Released from jail, Kenzo continues his search for his sister. Kyoko and Kenzo converge separately on the entertainment district, where it happens Mitsuko is having her professional debut at the Cabaret Orion, and her singing of 'Mournful Whistle' is broadcast by loudspeakers in the street outside. Kyoko recognises Mitsuko's voice and Kenzo recognises the song he wrote. They rush into the cabaret and at the end of the number, brother and sister are reunited, Kyoko and Kenzo become a couple, and all the main characters literally (in the film) sail into the sunset together.
  20. Through this whirl of melodramatic activity, orphaned Mitsuko moves through three family configurations: the loose but friendly vagabond crowd of fellow orphans and homeless day labourers; the informal but more intimate family with Kyoko and her father Fujikawa; and the final reconstituted family of her brother, Kyoko and Fujikawa. With each instance Mitsuko gains greater agency in forming an increasingly defined 'family' and in the course of doing so she redeems those with whom she interacts.
  21. This redemption affects in particular Kenzo, Kyoko and Fujikawa. Mitsuko redeems her brother first by their reunification; he finds what he sought (his sister) and he again becomes involved in music. She redeems Kyoko physically by rescuing her from the smugglers. By earning money singing and introducing Kyoko to Kenzo (implied to be Kyoko's future husband), Mitsuko also rescues Kyoko economically and morally by relieving her of the need to engage in work of doubtful character. Mitsuko saves Fujikawa physically by guiding him after he becomes blind and economically and professionally by giving him a dignified reason to play his violin in a popular band. Finally, by merging the three into a new family, she provides them all with emotional stability.
  22. The film integrates cinematography and Hibari's singing into the narrative events of the film in ways that promote Mitsuko's transformative function. Through sound and image Hibari's orphan character slips back and forth among social categories to effect family changes. This slippage occurs also between Misora Hibari as actress and singer, and the character she plays in any given film; between genders through cross-dressing, language and disguise; between classes via clothing, gesture and earning power; and between ages in the low register of her voice and the economy and artifice of her theatrical performances within the story. The entire profilmic and cinematographic array plays with these categories to enable and underscore the Hibari-character's capacity to invest the family in a child-centred ideal.
  23. In the course of that investment, a peculiar form of eroticisation envelops Hibari the actress and her orphan role through the cinematic process and the historical context in which her stardom arose. In the previously mentioned article, Kawamoto Saburo maintains that a sort of eroticism does emerge from the androgyny of her characters. Hibari played boys in movies before and after Mournful Whistle and in that film and in Tokyo Kid, her female character dresses as a boy for much of the movie. However, Kawamoto argues

      that rather than eroticism, Misora Hibari's boy has the weight of energy. A girl in the appearance of a boy runs around energetically. In that, it expresses the boyish hopes of a girl who cries "I want to race around like a boy!" That aspiration, to exaggerate, expresses the ideal of 'equality' of postwar democracy. Even more, it is connected to the strength of social advances for women. Misora Hibari embodies this male-female equality.[12]

  24. Kawamoto's perceptive linking of the Hibari-character's gender-blending appearance to the Occupation era's emphasis on democracy highlights the strong ideological presence of the political and social changes occurring in the early postwar years, especially the strong push for legal rights for women. But the eroticism of Misora Hibari's orphan goes beyond reflecting the times; she actively asserts new social possibilities. By eroticism, I do not exclusively mean eroticisation in the sense of an overt sexualisation aimed at a titillating pleasure (although sexuality is not absent from the Hibari-child's image), but also in a Freudian sense of Eros that invokes 'the whole of the life instincts as opposed to the death instincts.'[13] This eroticisation enables her to assume responsibilities normally seen as adult (earning enough money to support a family; saving people threatened with violence; serving as role-model for adults) and marks another way the Hibari films are distinct from other orphan movies.[14] In Mournful Whistle, the scene in which she makes her formal debut at the Cabaret Orion exemplifies this eroticisation in a complex mix of image, editing and sound. The camera turns her tiny figure—arrayed in tuxedo, full feminine make-up, and a sleek below-the-shoulder-length, page-boy hairdo—into a highly polished performer almost excessively confined by the deliberate, restrained choreography of her movements. In the spectacle of her performance and her spectacularisation in the movie frame, her identity in age, class and gender turns mercurial.
  25. Within the scene, Mitsuko/Hibari begins (again!) the verse of 'Mournful Whistle,' the sad song about an ended love affair. An overhead light casts shadows that make her twelve-year-old face look older. A seated patron offers her a cocktail. She refuses with a slowly wagging finger, moving on instead to pluck a rose from the cabaret's corsage seller, the light now directed to fully illuminate her face and reveal the soft contours of her young, round features. Moving across the floor, she extends the flower to a seated woman elegantly coiffured and dressed in black satin. She later approaches another ball-gowned woman; the two begin to dance and before they part, Mitsuko mimes the gesture of a kiss on the forehead of the woman.[15]
  26. By the end of this number, we know she is a little girl and so does the cabaret audience, but she moves like an adult, dresses like Fred Astaire, sings in a register remarkably low for a twelve-year-old female, plays the implied male role of the love song's lyrics that she sings. She is poor—her former labourer cronies, who peek through the club's windows, testify to both her immediate impoverished history and to her upward mobility (and their stasis at poverty)—but she wears the attire of the wealthy and is poised to launch a successful career. Age, gender and class teeter with instability as she sings and dances, imaged by a camera greedy for this anomaly so perfectly tuned to the fetishistic need of a nation in dishabille.
  27. This finale in top hat and tails effects a finessed closure of several narrative threads in the moral mission of the cinematic orphan. In Mournful Whistle—as in virtually all the orphan films—the mission first and foremost is the remoralisation of adults for whom the war and defeat have been most debilitating—especially men, and even more so, repatriated soldiers. In the case of Kenzo, the happy closure is symbolised and enacted in part by an implied conductor's baton as Kenzo begins to lead the orchestra in the final café scene. Thus he completes a relay begun in the opening sequence when Mitsuko wielded a gambling stick, to her dropping it at the feet of the unrecognising Kenzo in an early scene, to swirling her cane in the cabaret number. After their reunion, although he does not actually hold a conductor's baton, the stick returns to Kenzo's possession figuratively as he conducts the Orion band and re-engages music. The phallus has been returned to the renewed civilian—and the ex-soldier.
  28. By remasculating her brother, Mitsuko functions implicitly as both the depository and agent of revitalisation, remoralisation and eroticisation: impotence is dispelled. Moreover, this redemption relates to re-establishing a family. Mitsuko/Hibari's shifting positions relative to age, class and gender all bear upon these projects. This eroticising, impotence-dispelling aspect of the Hibari-character might seem far-fetched. However, the lengthy Orion scene narratively and visually evokes a far less ambivalently erotic scene from Josef von Sternberg's 1930 film Morocco, which screened in Japan in 1931.[16] Von Sternberg's café scene brings the Orion number's effect into sharper focus.
  29. In Morocco Marlene Dietrich plays a cabaret singer appearing in a Moroccan nightclub. Wearing top hat, white tie and tails, she sings a brief song in French about the end of a love affair. A wealthy patron near her offers her a drink in a martini-style glass. She accepts and drains the glass in one motion. She then gives a once-over to a woman at the patron's table, approaches her and takes a flower from the woman's hair. 'May I have this?' Marlene asks in her accented drawl. 'Of course' says the woman. Dietrich smells the flower, pauses, then leans down to the seated woman and kisses her on the mouth. The audience shrieks and laughs. Throughout the scene Dietrich persistently affects a masculine-gendered body language to match her tuxedo costume, and coolly provokes the audience by the deliberate kiss.[17]
  30. The visual and narrative similarities between Dietrich's Morocco nightclub number and Hibari's Cabaret Orion performance strongly suggest that the director of Mournful Whistle had seen and at least unconsciously recalled the 1930 film when it was shown in Japan in 1931.[18] The nightclub milieu, the tuxedo and top hat, the song about the end of a love affair, the offered cocktail (drunk by Dietrich, declined by Hibari), the flower, the kiss (by Dietrich on the lips, by Hibari on the forehead)—these similarities create a bizarre parallel in which the overt and titillating sexuality of Marlene is suppressed and corralled by a 12-year-old while still evoking the woman's erotic image and social resourcefulness. Mitsuko's number is very chaste but this strange, almost twisted, evocation—even if it was unknown or unperceived by some of the 1949 Japanese audience—underscores in retrospect the liminal space Hibari occupied in the revitalisation of the postwar milieu. She is a child assigned a role that should have been the purview of adults. As Isolde Standish argues, Hibari's star persona 'was connected to both her child status, as symbol of the first postwar generation...and the fact that although a child, her appearance and manner were that of an adult's.'[19]
  31. Nonetheless, Hibari's diminutive stature constantly presents Mitsuko's status as a child.[20] That status blurs in the face of her adult responsibilities: living by her wits among child and adult vagrants; bunking down by herself in construction pipes; earning money for Fujikawa's medicine; rescuing Kyoko from the smugglers; performing at a nightclub; bringing a new family together. The final Orion cabaret number gathers and consolidates the maturity of Mitsuko's deeds by visualising it. In addition to the adult outfit, gestures, choreography, narrative and lyric of the number, visual tricks promote an illusion of physical maturity to match the responsibilities she has born within the story. Close-ups and long shots alternately occlude and accentuate her child size. Patrons seated around the floor's show space sit in very low-slung chairs and Mitsuko seems tall above them, an effect accentuated by the low camera height.
  32. However, despite the grown-up demeanour of the performance, despite her supporting Kyoko's father with her song and hustle, despite her having been hailed for using her quick wit to save the kidnapped Kyoko, despite her ability to re-endow her brother's musical career—Mitsuko crumbles into a sobbing child when, at the end of applause for the number, her brother pushes his way through the crowd. They lock in a hug, Mitsuko sobbing. The cabaret crowd begins, slowly, to applaud again—this time for the spectacle of orphaned siblings reunited. The applause swells to a crescendo, Kenzo hands her the dropped hat and cane, Mitsuko leads him to the stage and returns him to music by gesturing to him to conduct the band for the next song. Her blind adopted grandfather Fujikawa is playing his violin in the orchestra, a producer of nightclub swing, converted by the class act of the child.[21] Kyoko stands among the crowd watching it all. Mitsuko has a family again, and she has saved them all.
  33. In the tidy ending, however, although a new family emerges, it is a rather odd family. Kyoko's father has increasingly become a grandfatherly figure, marginalised from the centre of agency and bread-winning; Kyoko and Kenzo, now a romantic pair, assume a position not unlike parents; and Mitsuko can finally assume the position of child in a family. She even has an 'uncle and aunt' in the guise of one of Kenzo's childhood friends and the man's wife. In the final scene, the six of them sail along the coast in two small craft, all smiles, future prospects bright. Mitsuko nestles against Kyoko, her adoptive sister/mother as her brother/father Kenzo steers the boat. The adult-child's rejuvenilisation is complete—except this family has not been created from the top down, so to speak, by a marriage arranged by a patriarch; nor from two lovers, marrying out of preference, who then produce a child. Rather, the child has brought together this set of 'kin' by her intervention, agency and a considerable amount of movieland's happy accident. It is not just a family: it is an ideal family and it is a family beholden to the child, not the reverse. Siblings parted by war, missed opportunities, dilemmas sure to be favourably resolved, villains to be punished—this stuff of melodrama— ends in happy coalescence with a patchwork family stitched together in a pattern designed by the disruption of war, the catastrophe of defeat, the insistence of America's democratic tailors and Japanese survivors' desire for new raiment.
  34. Just how well the Occupation's agenda of democratisation prevails, exhibits itself further in the way the Orion scene crystallises Mitsuko's—and postwar Japan's—class transformation. Her scruffy canal-side crew of buddies crowded outside the café's windows are vicariously soaking in her new success. But in donning the tuxedo, she has not reverted to the boyish guise she bore in the opening scene at the canal. Her makeup and neat page-boy inject a mark of femininity and the sleek costume testifies to new success and prestige; her natty walking cane replaces the whittled stick she gambled successfully with and then lost in the opening segment; when she and her brother embrace, they are next to the large fountain in the middle of the dance floor, quite a step up from the water of the muddy canal where they first collided.
  35. However, her new status might best be dubbed a class restitution rather than a transformation, for Kenzo's prewar work as pianist and pop music composer indicates their initially educated status. The Fujikawas, however, seem more than middle-class, as suggested by a flashback memory the father has of a prior classical, solo violin concert, as well as by his daughter's rather refined language. However, true to the bourgeois character of melodrama, Mitsuko does not restore them to their implied elevated status; rather, she equalises—homogenises—democratises—them into a middle class existence.
  36. This female child's gender-bending clinches the melodramatic resolution of the adult characters' class identity. When the Fujikawas adopt the girl whom the other orphans had named a generic 'Chibiko,'[22] Kyoko restores the child's name to Mitsuko and begins to refine and to feminise her with dress and apron, gestures, and speech. The feminising and refining education in which Kyoko guides Mitsuko suggests a relationship between genderising (and tenderising—specifically, that is, creating a softer feminine identity) and class constitution; i.e., the upper crust requires refined women to mark its legitimacy and supremacy. But ironically it is Mitsuko's toughness and street-wise savvy that deliver the Fujikawas from destitution and slavery and their attempt to feminise and enculturate her evokes a comment made about the movie partnership of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: 'He gave her class and she gave him sex.'[23] Hibari/Mitsuko is not infusing sexiness or 'sex' per se to the elite class represented by the Fujikawas, but she represents an erotic force in the sense that she's giving them 'life,' vitality, and freedom from their own inhibitions, cultural prejudices, and social impotence—as well as supporting them physically and economically. That life force belongs not to a prewar upper crust but to a new post-surrender egalitarianism. While the film projects sympathy for the once-genteel class of the Fujikawas, there is little doubt which class possesses potency. By 1949, that class is not proletarian, but petty bourgeois.[24] Hibari's form of labour installs and verifies the middle as the privileged class of egalitarianism: her labour is not manual—it is the popular art of entertainment. She does not assemble, she dissembles, with her audience's approval.
  37. The Hibari-character's gender play condenses the family into one person in whom disparate roles are shuffled, merged and conciliated. In almost every of her childhood films, the Hibari-character practises all or part of the familial roles normally doled out by society to different kin: she assumes the roles of mother, father, brother and sister, as well as that of daughter, son and grandchild. The Hibari-character is variously gladdened and saddened by the burden of these multiple roles, but even when the narrative ends in her re-establishment in the role of child, the potency of her character is never totally subsumed into an image of a dependent minor.
  38. In Mournful Whistle and other films—particularly in Tōkyō kiddo (Tokyo Kid, 1950), and Yōki na wataridori (A Carefree Bird on the Wing, 1952)—Hibari plays an aggressive agent of change. In the 1951 film Nakinureta ningyō (Tear-Drenched Doll), however, her character Ayako slips out of the degree of agency allowed by melodrama into the more passive role of a sentimental object. The movie itself begins to slip into a kind of nostalgia for the early years of post-defeat poverty. Except for the deeply impoverished Ayako and her brother, this film shows innumerable signs of recovery populating the screen: decently dressed school children (except for Ayako), the cars her mechanic brother repairs, shops filled with enticing wares. In this context, Ayako's extreme poverty casts the nation's economic recovery into relief and becomes nostalgic rather than representative. In 1951, the recovering audience was less likely to identify its own environment in Ayako's squalid circumstances.
  39. With Tear-Drenched Doll, the Hibari-character ceases to serve as metaphor and representative for the hardships and hopes of her contemporary era and assumes a more localised signification although for a broader time reference: the Misora Hibari persona supersedes the image of the Occupation's urchin. Hereafter, Hibari as both actress and singer moves away from representing an ideal gamin. In part, this undoubtedly had to do with her growth into adolescence, but the stark contrast presented between impoverished Ayako and her well-dressed classmates in Tear-Drenched Doll signals that the Hibari-character is being segregated from other children rather than representing an ideal distillation of them. After she retired from movies and concentrated on singing, Hibari's persona gradually became laden with references to the post-defeat years in general, until eventually she turned into a symbol of postwar Showa.[25]
  40. As Hibari grew older this symbolism worked to the advantage of her music career, but it also worked to the advantage of purging the post-defeat years of their sting. Nostalgia about her performances during the Occupation era replaced concerns about the war and its aftermath; instead, the Hibari-character's unsullied innocence supplied an indulgent victimhood uncomplicated by reminders of war and defeat. Hibari literally grew and her childhood roles could be frozen in time and abstracted to represent the Occupation years without their stark realities. By 1951, repatriation was virtually over, war-orphaned children were growing into adulthood, the urban landscape was well under reconstruction, and Japan was seizing the economic opportunities provided by the Korean War. Legal changes wrought by the new post-surrender Constitution and Civil Codes drastically changed the legal parameters of marriage and family relations—even if they did not necessarily change social habits. The cinematic orphan of the Occupation era faded away as the disruptions she represented and negotiated resolved or transformed into new social configurations.


    [1] All Japanese names follow the Japanese convention of family name first with the exception of authors who publish in English.

    [2] SCAP referred to Douglas MacArthur specifically and more generally to the officials working under him.

    [3] David Conde, quoted in Kyoko Hirano, Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema Under the American Occupation, 1945–1952, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992, p. 149. Conde was the first chief of film censorship in GHQ.

    [4] The most important occupation-era films that centred on orphans were, arguably, Nagaya shinshiroku (Record of a Tenement Gentleman) 1947; Kane no naru oka (The Hill Where the Bell Peals) Parts One, Two, and Three, 1948, 1949, 1949 respectively; Hachi no su no kodomotachi (Children of the Beehive) 1948, and its sequel, Sono go no hachi no su no kodomotachi (Children of the Beehive, Thereafter) 1951; Wasurerareta kora (Forgotten Children) 1949; Te o tsunagu kora (Children Hand in Hand) 1948; Kanashiki kuchibue (Mournful Whistle) 1949; Tokyo Kiddo (Tokyo Kid) 1949; Nakinureta ningyō (Tear-Drenched Doll) 1951. The last three were Hibari vehicles.

    [5] The opening lines of the Rescript are 'Our Imperial Ancestors have founded Our Empire on a basis broad and everlasting and have deeply and firmly implanted virtue; Our subjects ever united in loyalty and filial piety have from generation to generation illustrated the beauty thereof.' The document states 'Ye, Our subjects, be filial to your parents...should emergency arise, offer yourselves courageously to the State; and thus guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial Throne coeval with heaven and earth.' Translation from David J. Lu, Japan: A Documentary History, vol. II, Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1997, pp. 343–44.

    [6] The term 'orphan films' or 'orphan movies' is used strictly for convenience. I have not encountered any terms in Japanese publications indicating that movies about orphaned characters were ever regarded as a genre, and it is not the intent of this essay to formulate such a genre.

    [7] Hibari's last film was released in November 1971: it was her 158th movie over a span of twenty-two years. I have taken the count of her films from Misora Hibari: Utau jō no subete (Misora Hibari: All about the 'Queen of Song') Tokyo: Bungei shunjŪ, 1990, pp. 213–59.

    [8] Alan Tansman, 'Mournful Tears and Sake,' in Contemporary Japan and Popular Culture, ed. John Whittier Treat, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996, p. 108.

    [9] For example, the children in Kane no naru oka, Hachi no su no kodomotachi, Te o tsunagu kora, and Subarashiki nichiyōbi (One Wonderful Sunday) 1947, initially fight, steal, are impudent to their elders, or worse. In Sensō to heiwa (War and Peace) 1947, a very young child shoots and injures his real father in defence of his adoptive father, indicating just how complex the representation of innocence and guilt could be in the orphan films.

    [10] Kawamoto Saburo, 'Ima hitotabi no sengo nihon eiga, daijŪni-kai. "Hataraku kodomo" no kenagesa: Misora Hibari no "Kanashiki kuchibue" hoka' (Postwar Japanese Cinema Revisited, part 12. In Praise of the 'Child Who Works': Melancholy Whistle and Other Films of Misora Hibari), in Sekai vol. 579 (1993), pp. 338–39.

    [11] When Misora Hibari finally retired from films at the age of thirty-four in 1971, she had played starring roles in most of her 158 movies. In addition to her film career she recorded hundreds of songs, and appeared in concerts and television shows. Although not of tremendous emotive range, she was a respectable actress and in her child roles was quite spontaneous, perky and engaging. Many biographies have been published in Japanese about Misora Hibari, especially since her death in 1989 at the early age of fifty-two.

    [12] Kawamoto, 'Ima hitotabi,' p. 340.

    [13] J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, New York: Norton, 1973, p. 153.

    [14] Between October 1945 and April 1952, 1,100 Japanese-produced films were released (Japanese Film Association, Nihon gekieiga sakuhin mokuroku (Catalog of Japanese Theatrical Film Works). (Full publication data are not listed, but the period covered is 15 August 1945 to 31 December 1955). I have seen between 12 and 15 per cent of those, among which were twelve films featuring child orphans as a major component of the story. Of these, only Misora Hibari's films feature a female orphan in the lead, suggesting that the gender of her characters also differentiates her films from other orphan-centred plots. Many other films made during the Occupation had orphaned characters, some children, some young adults.

    [15] The Cabaret Orion scene is viewable at 'Misora Hibari in Kanashiki Kuchibue (Clip 2), on YouTube, posted 1 October 2006.

    [16] My thanks to Marlene Mayo of the University of Maryland for pointing me to the similarities between the Orion and Morocco scenes.

    [17] The Morocco scene is viewable at 'Morocco (1930) with Marlene Dietrich, Kiss Scene Complete,' on YouTube, posted 17 May, 2007.

    [18] Morocco was shown in Japan in February 1931, according to the Hakurai kinema sakuhin jiten (Complete Dictionary of Imported Movies Up To 1945 August) vol. 2, ed. Sekai eigashi kenkyūkai, 1997, Kagaku Shoin, entry #FP-13058, p. 2282. My thanks to Joanne Bernardi-Buralli for this reference. A clip from the film appears within Shimizu Hiroshi's 1934 film Kinkanshoku (My thanks to William M. Drew for this reference). In 'For an Abusive Subtitling,' Film Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 3 (Spring 1999), pp. 17–34. Markus Abe Nornes points out that Morocco was the first subtitled foreign film in Japan (p. 23).

    [19] Isolde Standish, A New History of Japanese Cinema: A Century of Narrative Film, New York: Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2005, p. 197. Standish translates the film's title as 'The Sad Whistle.'

    [20] Even as an adult, Hibari's height was less than five feet.

    [21] Before her number, Mitsuko persuades Fujikawa to play in the nightclub's band; she tells him his presence would calm her performance jitters.

    [22] The term basically means 'little girl.'

    [23] Katharine Hepburn quoted in Arlene Croce, The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Book, New York: Vintage Books, 1972, 134.

    [24] Occupation directives literally demoted the refined classes; that is, the peerage which had been created in the late nineteenth century to maintain a privileged status for former daimyo. The peerage was dissolved and some aristocratic families, impoverished by the war and by MacArthur's land reforms, fell apart. Several other films of the time portrayed elite strata of the society sympathetically while at the same time emphatically installing a new rising bourgeoisie as the source of post-surrender vitality. The fall from grace is often cushioned by romance and marriage with a member of the rising class. Some striking examples are Ojōsan, kampai (A Toast to the Young Miss), Anjō-ke no butōkai (The Ball at Anjo House), and Ōsone-ke no asa (Morning for the Osone Family).

    [25] The Showa era refers to Hirohito's reign from 1926 to 1989 but is often differentiated as pre- and post-war Showa. On a 1986 episode of the television series Daimei no nai ongakukai (Concert Without a Name), Hibari was presented explicitly as a prime symbol of postwar Showa, and especially of the Occupation years.


Intersections acknowledges the assistance of the Gender Relations Centre, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University in the hosting of this site.
© Copyright
Page constructed by Carolyn Brewer.
Last modified: 17 March 2008 1156

This page has been optimised for 1024x768
and is best viewed in either Netscape 2 or above, or Explorer 2 or above.