Note: This is an import title in NTSC format from Hong Kong. Though available online and at many specialty shops throughout America, a region-free or Region 3/NTSC player is required when viewing this title.
Released less than five months after Tora-san's Dear Old Home, Tora-san's Dream Come True (Otoko wa tsuraiyo - Torajiro yumemakura, 1972) is the tenth movie in the 48-film "Tora-san" series from director Yoji Yamada (Twilight Samurai). Overall it's about average, with scattered moments of exquisite character comedy and drama that is, as Los Angeles Times critic Kevin Thomas used to accurately describe it, unapologetically sentimental in the best sense of the word.
The episodic film opens with Tora-san learning of the death of an old acquaintance, another wanderer that spent his sad last days lonely and forgotten. Visiting his grave with the old woman (Kinuyo Tanaka) who had cared for him, Tora-san decides to forsake his wandering ways. Returning home to Shibamata, he humbly asks his family their forgiveness, promises to find a real job, and enlists their aid in finding him a suitable bride. However, despite the family's best efforts, it soon becomes apparent that Tora-san's reputation as a well-meaning but irresponsible loser is widely known throughout the neighborhood. Adding insult to injury, Tora-san's room is offered up to Gozen-sama's (Chishu Ryu) nephew, a bookish University Professor named Okakura (Masakane Yonekura).
Offended, Tora-san is about to leave when the family sweets shop is visited by Chiyo (Kaoru Yachigusa, the ingenue of Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai trilogy), a divorcee and childhood friend of Tora-san and Sakura. Initially, both Tora-san and Okakura seem to fall in love with her, but soon Tora-san is taking great delight watching Okakura's squirm whenever Chiyo is around, recognizing his own awkwardness in the super-intellectual.
Tora-san's Dream Come True is rather hit-and-miss, though it redeems itself in the final reel, with an unexpected twist well worth the unevenness that precedes it. Tora-san is a comical character in a real and sometimes harsh world, populated by believable characters universally recognizable. But Okakura is too broadly comic himself to really fit in; it's one buffoon too many, and Okakura isn't at all endearing the way Tora-san is. One of the later films, the similarly-titled Tora-san's Dream of Spring (Otoko wa tsuraiyo - Torajiro haru no yume, 1979), had a similar premise: in that film, an American itinerant peddler named Michael Jordan (!), played by Herb Edelman, likewise stays in Tora-san's room and he falls in love with Sakura. However, while obviously drawing comparisons with Tora-san, that American character remains grounded in the same reality as the "straight" characters, and isn't clownish in the way Okakura archly often is.
The film has scattered good scenes throughout. Kinuyo Tanaka, the great actress (and sometimes director) who starred in so many masterpieces by Kenji Mizoguchi (The Life of Oharu, My Love Has Been Burning) and others, has a guest role here and makes the most of it. Yachigusa is very good, using her reserved (and very traditionally Japanese) manner to the character's benefit; her last scenes are played with impressive subtlety. And the film also has its share of laughs, such as an irresistible scene where Tora-san, visiting Okakura's university, stumbles into the middle of a lecture, cheerily greeting the bemused professor and his students.
Video & Audio
Tora-san's Dream Come True has none of the subtitling problems that nearly ruined Tora-san's Dear Old Home, the film before this. Better still, the subtitles are an improvement over the last few titles, with better translations and fewer head-scratching bits of pidgin English. Chinese subtitles are also available. As with Dear Old Home, the presentation is in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen (adapted from the original 2.35:1 scope), using a rather worn print. The disc is listed as stereo but the movie is, in fact, monophonic.
Extras are limited to a director's biography and filmography (in both Chinese and English), which are both repeated in the CD-shaped booklet included with the disc.
Nineteen seventy-two was a good year for Yoji Yamada. Tora-san's Dream Come True became the year's top-grossing domestic release, while his superb Home from the Sea (Kokyo), ranked third on Kinema Jumpo's list of the year's best films. (Yamada's third film that year, Tora-san's Dear Old Home, came in at number six).** So even if Tora-san's Dream Come True is the least of these three pictures, it's still quite good, an achievement few directors as prolific as Yamada could claim.
** In some ways Home from the Sea rather like a modern-dress Twilight Samurai, and comes highly recommended. An English-subtitled version is available from Panorama/HKFlix.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.