Tora-san 33: Everyone’s Place is not on the Road

I watched Tora-san 33 today. I posted some thoughts on letterboxd and decided to cross-post it here, as well.

Dunno why but just wanted to see this film today. I guess due to the pandemic and the inability to feel particularly grounded or settled. I’ve seen this several times and have been to locations in Kushiro and Nemuro. I even tried to find the barber shop in Kushiro where Fuko worked by walking into another, similar looking barber shop and asking if they knew where it was. I was told it was torn down a few years while having a nice chat with the barber.

I think 33 is well known as the darkest Tora-san film — as reflected by a direct translation of the subtitle of the film, Torajiro who’s choked by the evening fog. The rain and fog is more ominous in this film, Fuko walking through the foggy streets of Nemuro or thunder punctuating the fight between Fuko and Tora at the end, than say when Tora meets Lily with an umbrella at Shibamata Station in Tora-san 15.

Lily is, of course, like Tony and Tora, of the road, while Fuko, though she says she is a wanderer like Tora, Tora knows she isn’t. Like many of the better Tora-san films, Tora isn’t really pursuing Fuko as a partner. Fuko, though, isn’t really pursuing Tora. She is just on the road, looking for something. So when Tora tells Fuko that she can’t come with him and she should enjoy her job in Nemuro, just like he once again tells Noboru to forget about him and his life on the road after they meet again in Morioka, Tora is trying to set her on a more straight path, which is where he thinks she will be happiest, just like Noboru was after settling down with his wife, child, and small restaurant. The subplot with the salaryman Fukuda, whose wife left him for another man and a simple life in Hokkaido after Fukuda gets a house they can’t afford in Tokyo. (There is also Akemi getting married, but a few films later she runs away from her marriage and Tora has to track her down…)

But the first time I watched the film, I wanted to join Tora on the road as well and so I at first felt the ending, where Fuko seemingly decides to marry someone and settle down, was a disappointment. Let Fuko be free on the road! Tora is also being overbearing and patronizing, when he goes to Tony, the motorcycle daredevil who Fuko joins on the road after Tora rebuffs her, and tells him to stay away from Fuko and tries to stop Fuko from meeting him, as well. Though it is a great scene and it is great to see Atsumi able to play Tora more seriously and more subtly. Atsumi often has to be the jester or fool in polite society as Tora that it can be easy to forget that Tora was more than capable of surviving on the edges of society. Every once in a while, though, such as here or on the ferry in #6, that Atsumi and Yamada allow us a glimpse into that side of Tora’s life.

Watching it this time, though, and seeing how the subplots informed Fuko’s story, thinking more about how Fuko’s interactions with Tora’s family informed her later decisions, and with the realization that perhaps a Tora-san film just can’t end on such an ambiguous ending for anyone other than Tora — and perhaps Lily — I have somewhat come around to the ending, at least when it comes to Fuko’s decision. I still don’t quite like the slapstick, over the top nature of it as opposed to the more naturalistic characterizations that Rie Nakahara as Fuko and Tsunehiko Watase as Tony, bring to the film.

The opening dream sequence, with Nakahara as a cabaret singer and a Watase as a gang leader, is a great parody of a Nikkatsu action film. This film was my introduction to Watase and he’s always great in other films I have seen him in subsequently. I actually have always been so fascinated by Fuko as a character that I realized I have never really looked into who played her, so I didn’t realize until today that Nakahara is actually a singer, as well, which also explains the few verses that Tora and Fuko sing together at the station when Fukuda leaves them.

I also started to look into where the opening scene was shot, but it was a shrine in Iwate (of course, as Tora goes to Morioka where he meets Noburo). Iwate is the only prefecture in Japan without someone being diagnosed with having contracted the coronavirus. Even if I was going to travel anytime soon, Iwate is off the list for now. Hopefully I will be able to visit sometime soon, though.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking into Nakahara’s career a bit more and then probably have a different opinion on the film and the ending the next time I watch it.

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