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.
The 13th of 48 Tora-san movies, Tora-san's Lovesick (Otoko wa tsurai yo: Torajiro koiyatsure, or "It's Tough to Be a Man: Torajiro Lovesick," 1974) is also directly linked to the ninth Tora-san film, Tora-san's Dear Old Home (1972). Like most Japanese film series, be it Tora-san or Zatoichi or Godzilla, while it's true in one sense that once you've seen one you've seen them all, it's also true that the fun of such films are the subtle variations of the same basic story and characters. In this case, while Tora-san falls in love yet again (twice!), the film's main story involves an especially well-written estranged relationship between a father and his daughter.
The picture opens with itinerant peddler Tora-san (Kiyoshi Atsumi) returning home to Shibamata with news that he has at long last found a bride. In the hot springs resort town of Yunotsu, Tora-san became friendly with a young mother (Toshie Takada), whose husband has disappeared. Tora-san's family is delighted, but their joy is tempered when they learn Tora-san hasn't actually asked his prospective bride to marry him. Tora-san's sister, the long-suffering Sakura (Chieko Baisho) and her husband's boss, Umetaro (Hisao Dazai), better known by his nickname, "Octopus," accompany Tora-san back to Yunotsu, where (spoilers ahead) the young mother shares with them the happy news that her husband unexpectedly has returned home.
Despondent, Tora-san leaves Sakura and Octopus and continues his wandering, landing in Tsuwano, where he's reunited with Utako (Sayuri Yoshinaga, whose character first appeared in Tora-san's Dear Old Home). Her husband has died after a sudden illness, and the young widow, feeling obligated, now lives with his oppressive, domineering parents. With Utako obviously quite unhappy, he suggests that she come and stay in Tokyo, at the family's sweets shop in Shibamata, which she eventually does.
As usual, Tora-san falls in love with her, ignoring the fact that she eventually needs to move on, to do something with her life. A sticking point seems to be Utako's estranged relationship with her father (Seiji Miyaguchi, the expert swordsman from Seven Samurai), a famous writer of historical fiction.
Tora-san's Lovesick is another fine entry in this exceptional series. One of its strengths is the well-written (by screenwriters Yoshitaka Asama and director Yoji Yamada) conflict between Utako, who resents her father's apparent lack of sympathy and interest toward her widowed status, and his stubborn refusal to accept what his she has decided to do with her life. Sayuri Yoshinaga was practically a specialist with this kind of parent-daughter conflict, while Seiji Miyaguchi's father is both intimidating yet clearly well-meaning. One very good scene has Sakura visiting him hoping to inspire a reconciliation, and Miyaguchi's subtle performance coupled with Yamada and Asama's delicate scripting make this scene memorable.
Atsumi's Tora-san, as usual, is a delight: immature, combative, easily hurt but kind-hearted and charming. Baisho is equally good as Sakura, who like her brother is eager to help those less fortunate than she, even though her own family is neither rich economically nor as harmonious as perhaps she imagines.
Video & Audio
Like all of Panorama's Tora-san titles, Tora-san's Lovesick is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, slightly cropping the original Shochiku GrandScope theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 to about 2:1. That said, the image is cleaner, sharper, and with better looking color than the earliest Tora-san releases, so it is a step up, this in spite of the fact that in Japan the entire Tora-san series is available (without English subtitles, alas) in glorious 16:9 transfers. The mono sound isn't great, but the English subtitles are also a slight improvement over the earlier releases, with fewer typos and formatting issues, and better translations.
Supplements are limited to a skimpy director's biography and filmography (in both Chinese and English), both repeated in the CD-shaped booklet included with the disc.
Yoji Yamada's Tora-san film series is one of Japanese cinema's undiscovered treasures. Though hugely popular in Japan, even now, more than a decade since star Kiyoshi Atsumi's death, it's virtually unknown outside of Asia. It's one of these film series that, once seen, viewers are instantly and completely hooked. It's unfortunate that Shochiku stubbornly refuses to either offer English subtitles on their own releases or offer better masters to their Hong Kong licensees, or that no one in the west seems much interested in acquiring the series for release there. For now, these Panorama titles, though much less than perfect, are invaluable releases.
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.