The character of Tora-san has surpased all the boundaries of cinema and has become an icon in Japanese popular culture, being one of their most beloved characters, starring a long series of 48 films between 1969 until 1995, in which is probably the longest movie series starred by a same actor in movie history. From 1969 to 1989, two films were released each year, one in summer and one for New Year Release. From 1990 to 1995, only one film was released by year, and the series came to an end with the death of its star, Kiyoshi Atsumi from lung cancer at the age of 68. Atsumi was so identified with the character, that fans moaned his death as the death of the beloved tramp, and although that there were plans to follow the series, the passing of Tora san himself, made that the idea lost all sense. For that reason the script for the 49th entry, was recycled for another different movie, however, in 2019 a new film called “Tora San Wish you were here” was released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the series, and fans will have the privilege of enjoying it in JAPAN CUTS festival, with the first installment of the series and “Tora San, meets the songstress”. Don´t miss the chance!!!
Tora san´s statue in Shibamata, where the movies were made
The brilliant mind behind the series was no other than legendary Japanese filmmaker Yoji Yamada, who except for episodes 3 and 4, directed all the installments and wrote and co-wrote all the scripts. The saga follows the love misadventures of Tora San (Kiyoshi Atsumi) a kind-hearted scoundrel from Shibamata, very unlucky in love who can really be considered the greatest hero of unrequited love. A peddler who wanders around Japan with no destination, (in some chapter even travelling overseas) meeting different leading ladies in each new installment, often played by popular actresses known as madonnas, always having as final result, his heart broken in pieces by them, finding consolation in another essential character of the series, his comprensive half-sister Sakura, played in all the chapters by that outstanding actress that was, and still is, Chieko Baisho. A sister that every man would love to have.
Throughout the 48 films (49 if we count the remastered version of the 25th installment re-released in cinemas in 1997) Yamada always followed a same structure to tell the stories, however, and due his genuine talent, always managed to bring something new and refreshing in each new chapter, allowing that the series never becomes a recycling cliches monotonous routine, constantly adding new characters, with different locations, though Shibamata was always the main scenario of the stories, and even having a chapter that was based in a book of poems as principal narrative point of telling the story (Tora San, Salad-Day Memorial, 1988)
Through the years, the saga envolved giving more protagonism to some supporting characters as Tora´s nephew, Mitsuo (Hidetaka Yoshioka) whom we see grown in the series, and in the last chapters shares the equal protagonism that his uncle, sometimes becoming the centre of the main plot, and also getting trapped in the clutches of love, but him with more luck.
Otoko wa Tsurai yo (It´s tough being a man), was the first film of the series. In this first chapter, we get to know all the universe around the character. We enter for the first time on the neighborhood where he grew up, walking through the streets that will become part of the series as another silent character as important as Tora himself, getting to know his neighbors, his uncles and the sweets shop they own that will become the principal headquarter for the characters in each movie.
The plot revolves around the return of Tora San to his hometown after 20 years of absence. On his return, he has a teary reunion with his uncles (Shin Morikawa and Chieko Misaki) and later, joins his sister Sakura (Chieko Baisho) at her matchmaking meeting with the son of a company president, nevertheless, he gets drunk ruining his sister´s engagement. Repented and ashamed of his behaviour, he runs away from home again travelling to Nara where he falls madly in love with a young woman named Fuyuko (Sachiko Mitsumoto), his first madonna.
An excellent first film, filled with really hilarous situations and heartwarming moments that leads to a bittersweet ending that will mark the beginning of a long journey that symbolizes the path to follow to all those that are unable to find happiness. To those who wander unable of find a stable life.
Don´t miss the chance and enjoy it in JAPAN CUTS FESTIVAL