Almost one year has passed since I watched all 48 Tora-san movies from the first to the last. I watched them not in theaters, but on DVD rather than on film in theaters. Luckily, I have already been able to watch a couple in theaters, having belatedly discovered this Tora-san Festival in Mitaka. And, as I have paid more attention to what revival houses are screening around Tokyo, I have noticed Tora-san is shown regularly around Tokyo. Within the next couple of months, however, eight different Tora-san films will be shown in Tokyo on glorious 35 mm film. Seven will be shown part of the film festival commemorating the 120 anniversary of the founding of the Shochiku Film Studios, which produced the Tora-san films. Another will be screened as part of a film retrospective celebrating the 110th anniversary of film star Takashi Shimura’s birth at the National Film Center. Shimura was in Godzilla films, Kurosawa films, and Tora-san films, so you can be a better representative of Japanese film than him.
Although I was able to find some English subtitled trailers, sadly none of the movies will be screened with subtitles. As mentioned below, though, the films also make up a wonderful showcase for late Showa/Early Heisei Japan, which are worth seeing alone even if you have some trouble following the language.
It’s Tough Being A Man
The first film is unburdened by the constraints of being the “longest running film series in history.” It is burdened by bringing back a TV character that was killed in the final episode of the series. So even though the Tora-san character is a bit toned down from the TV series, the first film is one of the better installments. It is playing at the Togeki on Sunday November 8th at 7 pm, Tuesday November 10th at 4:45 pm, Friday November 13th at 2:30 pm, and Friday November 20th at 11:00 AM.
Tora-san’s Love Call
The eighth film in the series guest stars Takashi Shimura, as Tora-san brother-in-law Hiroshi’s father, whom Tora stays with for a while at his home in Bitchu Takahashi. It is also the first film of many in which Tora encounters a traveling theater troupe, who’s leader, played by Yoshio Yoshida, also often portrayed the bad guy in the opening scene dream sequences. This is being shown only once, on Sunday October 18th at 4pm at the National Film Center, as part of the Takashi Shimura retrospective.
Tora-san’s Dear Old Home
This is the first film with Shin Morikawa as Tora’s uncle. It the first film to star two time “madonna” Sayuri Yoshinaga. There are some fun scenes at the beginning with Tora playing tour guide to several young women from the city as well as some more moving scenes later in the film with Yoshinaga has to make some difficult life choices. This will be shown at the Togeki theater on Sunday November 8th at 4:45 pm, Tuesday November 10th at 2:30 pm, Friday November 13th at 12:20 pm, and Thursday November 19th at 11:00 am.
Tora-san Meets the Songtress Again
#15 is the second film with the great Ruriko Asaoka, who always brought something extra when she portrayed my favorite madonna, and really Tora’s real soulmate, Lily. The subplot in this one, though, is more stereotypical, yet still well done, with Tora meeting a salaryman, played by Eijiro Funakoshi, who has lost his bearings. That does, however, lead to a great scene where Tora’s family has to explain to the salaryman’s wife who her solidly upper middle class husband has run away with. This will be shown at the Togeki theater on Sunday November 8th at 2:30 pm, Tuesday November 10th at 12:20 pm, Thursday November 12th at 7:00 pm, and Wednesday November 18th at 11 am.
Tora-san’s Sunrise and Sunset
This film is another one of my favorites, and not only because of the scene in Jimbocho. The madonna Botan, played by Kiwako Taichi, ｉｓ great. But the film is made by Jūkichi Uno, a famed postwar actor who I first got to know from this film. Uno plays a famous artist only interested in painting. Tora becomes obsessed with the money, for both good and bad reasons, that can be made from those paintings, creating a unique and thought provoking relationship in the series that helps make one of the best. This is being screened at the Togeki on Sunday November 8th at 12:20, Monday November 9th at 7 pm, Thursday November 12th at 4:45 pm,and Tuesday November 17th at 11 am.
Tora’s Tropical Fever
This is the third film co-starting Ruriko Asaoka and the first one in Okinawa, was named by Yoji Yamada as his favorite of the first 25. In fact, it is the best and most complex film in the series and blows away stereotypes one has of the series. The Tora-san films also act as a visual record of a changing Japan, and this film gives one a glimpse into an Okinawa less than a decade after it reverted back to Japan from American rule. This will be shown at the Togeki theater on Saturday November 7th at 4:45 pm, Monday November 9th at 4:45 pm, Wednesday November 11th at 7:00 pm, and Monday November 16th at 11:00 am.
Hearts and Flowers for Tora-san
Tora-san #29 has scenes in Kyoto and Kamakura, a madonna in trouble, Tora’s nephew Mitsuo giving his uncle some trouble while his uncle gives some trouble right back. A typical Tora-san film. This film is being screened at the Togeki on Saturday November 7th at 2:30 pm, Monday November 9th at 2:30 pm, Wednesday November 11th at 4:45 pm, Friday November 13th at 7:00 pm, and Sunday November 15th at 11 am.
Tora-san #32 (男はつらいよ 口笛を吹く寅次郎 Tora-san Goes Religious)This film is worth seeing for several reasons, but a lot of them come from references to the rest of the series. First, there is Tora-san becoming a monk. In Japanese, a three day monk is someone who starts many things but never finishes them. So, knowing Tora’s character, him becoming a monk for a short time is the joke. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is how the outline for the movie started. However, it also deals with the death of Hiroshi’s father. There are several scenes throughout the series, including #8, that deal with Tora’s relationship with Hiroshi’s father and his death brings some changes to the series, which plays out in an emotional scene with Hiroshi and his brothers dealing the family inheritance. This is also the second film made in Bitchu Takahashi. I recently visited Takahashi, and a taxi driver we met said that Yamada specifically filmed some scenes to show the changes in Takahashi between the 10 years the films were made. A good reason to watch both of them. This willov be shown at the Togeki theater on Saturday November 7th at 12:20 pm, Monday November 9th at 12:20 pm, Tuesday November 10th at 7:00 pm, Friday November 13th 4:45 pm, and Saturday November 14th at 11:00 am.