Hideko the Bus Conductress, Mikio Naruse's deceptively lighthearted comic confection, is the writer-director's first collaboration (of a total 17) with the great Japanese actress Hideko Takamine. As the teenage bus conductress O-Koma, Takamine might best be described as beatification personified, and it is her continuously cheerful demeanor that effectively masks the film's underlying current of satirical bitterness. In an effort to bolster the profits of the struggling Kohoku bus company, O-Koma and her co-worker Sonoda (Keita Fujiwara) propose offering tour guide commentary to the many sights along their rural route. After receiving approval from their hilariously disaffected boss (played by Yotaro Katsumi as a subtly frightening embodiment of the bottom line-minded bean-counter run amok), the duo enlists Gonji Igawa (Daijirô Natsukawa), a Tokyo novelist, to write the script for their venture. What follows plays as a comically cloaked metaphor for an artist's creative process, as well as a harsh appraisal of the military/big business synergism that was no doubt ubiquitous in wartime Japan, though I question how many viewers will see beyond the film's jovial surface to the rather ruthless critique at its core. It's quite possible that the central points of Hideko the Bus Conductress are lost in a morass of allusion and implication as necessitated by the censorious authorities of the time, but it is equally probable that Naruse has rather brilliantly misdirected his audience's expectations and hidden a scathing indictment of the powers-that-be within the confines of a crowd-pleasing star vehicle that aims, via our collective smiles and laughter, to expose a virulent and destructive societal canker.