A Year of Tora-san: 2, The Family

The second Tora-san film, in English is titled Tora-san’s Cherished Mother and in Japanese 続 男はつらいよ (Zoku: Otoko wa Tsurai yo: It’s Tough Being a Man Continues). The film revolves around two stories. One, Tora-san’s relationship with his former elementary school teacher and his daughter and the other around his relationship with his real mother. Though the former relationships are interesting (and moving), I want to focus on Tora-san relationship with his family.

In the opening of the first Tora-san, we learn he was born of an affair between Tora-san’s father and a local geisha. We find out the rest of his family, his father, his step-mother, his older brother, have all passed away. We know that then due to his father’s violent abuse, Tora ran away from home in his mid teens, not to return for 20 years. Nothing else is said of his biological mother.

In this film, however, Tora though has now discovered where his mother works, a hotel called “The Grand Hotel”. It sounds amazing,like the New Grand in Yokohama or perhaps similar to the Nara Hotel where Gozen-sama and his daughter stayed in the first film.

Instead, it ends up being a small neighborhood “love hotel”. His mother is not the friendly grandmotherly woman who he saw in his dream at the beginning of the film, instead it is the cynical, fast taking owner of the hotel. Instead of a weepy, sentimental remeeting, we get a vulgar and heartbreaking fight between the mother and son, both still hurt in their own way by the same man.

Though the film ends on a high note, showing Tora-san with his mother walking through the streets of Kyoto, As we will see, this warm relationship will not last long and Tora-san’s biological mother never becomes a strong presence throughout the films.

Instead, it is his extended family of the dango shop that becomes his family. What follows is generally from this discussion between Chieko Baisho, who plays Tora’s sister Sakura and Yoji Yamada, who directed almost all the Tora-san films, including this one.
This was published in support of Yamada’s film “The Little House“, which was based on a novel which will be published in English this year.

Who is Tora-san’s family? Of course, his sister is important to him. But, as we know, his sister is only his half sister. His aunt and uncle are there. They, though, did not have children of their own. Sakura married Hiroshi Suwa, who has his own troubled relationship with his immediate family. Then there is Tako-shacho — whose real name is Umetaro Katsura but for some reason I can’t of him as anything else but Tako Shacho, or Boss Octopus. Since Tora says he looks like an octopus, that is what he is called, who runs the print shop next door, and also employees Hiroshi, and comes and goes like family himself.

This isn’t a nuclear family but neither is it an extended multi-generational family living under one roof. They aren’t an immediate family connected by blood, but by their choice and, as part of the greater community, by their common humanity, as well. Both Hiroshi and Sakura and, perhaps surprisingly, Tora’s aunt and uncle, were “love” marriages as opposed to arranged marriages. The printing shop is a small business, so it doesn’t necessarily have the resources of large company, and while Hiroshi is often busy he seems free to come and go if needed to deal with family situations and Tako-shacho is, in spite of always worrying about business, bills, and taxes, is willing to help out those in need. Other employees will come and then go for one personal reason or another. There are always people in the community coming and going, as well as people who come because Tora has touched them in some way, and, of course, they always comment on how welcoming and wonderful this motley family is.

As Yamada says in the discussion with Baisho: “I wanted to set the stage for a family with little blood relationship because I believed that blood is not the most important aspect for a family.”