After the success of his acclaimed The Yellow Handkerchief (Shiawase no kiiroi hankachi, 1977), director Yoji Yamada revisited certain elements of that film in subsequent Tora-san movies. Tora-san's Stage-Struck (Otoko wa tsuraiyo - Torajiro wagamichi wo yuku, 1978) partly was designed as a showcase for hot young talent Tetsuya Takeda, with actor playing a similar character thrust into Tora-san's universe. For Tora-san the Matchmaker (Otoko wa tsurai yo: Tonderu torajiro, or "It's Tough to Be a Man - Hip Torajiro," 1979), the 23rd film in the long-running series, Yamada builds much of the story around Yellow Handkerchief's ingenue, the hugely popular Kaori Momoi, with greater success. Though at times the film plays more like a vehicle for Momoi than series star Kiyoshi Atsumi, there are many fine and entertaining scenes throughout.
The theme this time is love and marriage, which in Japan don't necessarily come in that order. Down the street from Tora-ya, the Kuruma family's traditional sweets shop in Shibamata, in Tokyo, everyone attends the marriage of one of Hiroshi's (Gin Maeda) co-workers from the printing shop next door, owned by perpetual worrywart "Tako" ("Octopus," Hisao Dazai). The happy event reminds Hiroshi and Sakura (Chieko Baisho) of their own wedding ten years earlier, and Aunt Tsune (Chieko Misaki) and Uncle Tatsuzu (Masami Shimojo) recall their early life together. Inevitably, thoughts turn to itinerant peddler Tora-san (Kiyoshi Atsumi), Sakura's brother, and his inability to find a bride and settle down.
Tora-san returns home but cuts his visit short after being insulted by a composition written by Hiroshi and Sakura's young son, Mitsuo (Hayato Nakamura), who innocently writes about Tora-san's troubles. (His teacher's reaction: "Well-written. Some uncle!") Later, in Hokkaido, Tora-san helps Hitomi (Kaori Momoi) fend off an inept rapist trying to assault her. After Tora-san blackmails the would-be sex criminal into letting them sleep at his inn for free, she reveals that she's supposed to marry soon but has her doubts.
Back in Tokyo, Hitomi finally cracks right in the middle of her own wedding reception, bolting mid-ceremony white wedding dress and all. She jumps into a taxi and makes a beeline for Tora-ya. Tora-san is quite pleased with this and naturally falls in love with the troubled bride. Meanwhile, Hitomi's wealthy mother (Michiyo Kogure) and new husband each track the runaway bride to Shibamata. To everyone's surprise the groom (Akira Fuse, who in real life would marry actress Olivia Hussey the following the year), the son of the interior design company president (Tatsuo Matsumura, formerly Tora-san's Uncle Tatsuzo for several films prior to Shimojo being cast), turns out to be a pleasant and sincere man anxious to start a life independent from his own wealthy family.
Tora-san the Matchmaker offers several irresistible moments, and worth the price of admission just to see Tora-san acting as Go-Between at a wedding reception where, required to give the speech required of that honorary title, lapses into a discussion about the difficulties of wearing a kimono to the toilet. (The reception is also interrupted by a truck from a recycling company loudly offering free toilet paper to all donors, a common sight in Japan even today.)
The film also offers viewers the chance to see another of Japanese cinema's all-time great actresses, Michiyo Kogure (Ozu's The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice, Mizoguchi's A Geisha), who made just one more film after this prior to her death in 1990. Her role isn't especially memorable, but she nails her character - a mother who has generously provided for her daughter and regards her present behavior as extremely selfish - wonderfully well.
Kaori Momoi (Memoirs of a Geisha) was one of the biggest movie and pop stars of the 1980s and a major influence on Japanese youth much like, for example, Madonna had been at the same time in America, but her signature acting style today comes off as rather inexpressive. Neither broad (like most mainstream film stars her age) nor actorly (such as Tora-san Plays Cupid's Shinobu Otake), Momoi mostly just sits there and pouts, like a woman with a severe migraine who can't decide what to cook for dinner. She's an acquired taste, to be sure.
Akira Fuse (Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald) comes off better as Kunio, Hitomi's unfortunate husband, playing an interesting character that evolves in interesting ways.
Both Tora-san the Matchmaker and its predecessor, Tora-san's Talk of the Town (Otoko wa tsurai yo: Uwasa no torajiro, 1978) were very successful, placing third and fourth on the list of the year's top-grossing domestic films
Video & Audio
Tora-san the Matchmaker is presented in the usual non-anamorphic widescreen transfer, at about 1.85:1 from the 2.35:1 Panavision original. The image acceptable, but not more than that. The audio is mono despite the Dolby Stereo declaration on the case, but clear of distortion, and the English subtitles are adequate. Optional Chinese subtitles are also available.
As usual, a skimpy director's biography and filmography (in both Chinese and English) is all that's offered here, repeated in the CD-shaped booklet included with the disc.
Fans of the series and especially actress Momoi will want to see Tora-san the Matchmaker. Those new to and curious about the series are better off starting with the next entry, Tora-san's Dream of Spring. Recommended.
Note: This film follows Talk-of-the-Town Tora-san (1978), and is followed by Tora-san's Dream of Spring (1979).
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.