The awkwardly-titled 27th Tora-san movie, Tora-san's Many-splintered Love, was first shown in the west under the much more sensibly named Tora-san's Love in Osaka, adapted from Otoko wa tsuraiyo - Naniwa no koino Torajiro, or "It's Tough to Be a Man - Tora-san's Love in Naniwa." Naniwa is an old-fashioned name for Osaka, much like Edo is to Tokyo, and still exists as a ward in Japan's third-largest city, and the setting for many famous films including Kenji Mizoguchi's Naniwa Elegy (1936).
Under any title Tora-san's Many-splintered Love is an above-average entry in this consistently excellent series that lasted 48 feature films made between 1969 and 1995. Much of the script is centered on the amusing differences between residents of Tokyo/Kanto (including Tora-san and his family) and Osaka/Kansai, and therefore its appeal is more specifically domestic than usual, and some of the humor untranslatable. Conversely, it offers a fine performance from one of the series' most beautiful "Madonnas" (played in the film by classically beautiful Keiko Matsuzaka, the star of Fall Guy) a nicely-woven characterization by writers Yoshitaka Asama and director Yoji Yamada (The Hidden Blade).
Traveling the Seto Inland Sea, itinerant peddler Tora-san (Kiyoshi Atsumi) spots a young woman, Fumi (Matsuzaka), tending to what he wrongly assumes is her late husband's grave. She's amused by his misplaced sympathy and the two become friends. Later, in Osaka, he meets her once again and is surprised to discover that she works as a geisha. (Earlier, he had seen her in her "civvies" and assumed she was an office worker.)
Predictably, Tora-san falls in love with her and despite being almost completely broke makes camp at the "New World Hotel," a shabby downtown establishment run by a tough-looking but mother-dominated hotel manager (Gannosuke Ashiya).
In Tora-san's Many-splintered Love, Yamada and Asama draw interesting parallels between the outwardly opposite Tora-san and Fumi, parallels that naturally draw them to one another. Both left home at an early age, their parents are dead, they work socially unaccepted occupations, and estranged from long-lost siblings for many years. When Tora-san learns that Fumi has a younger brother she's not seen since childhood he (with obvious allusions to his reunion with younger sister Sakura) aggressively encourages her to drop everything and find him. This time, however, the results are unexpected.
Matsuzaka's character also makes an interesting contrast with lowly lounge singer Lily (Ruriko Asaoka), the most enduring of Tora-san's would-be loves. Both work professions that imbue popular appeal and glamour but which are, in private, disdained. It's all well and good to be entertained by them, just don't fall in love with one. But where Lily is coarse and streetwise, with lacquered makeup and a singularly loud wardrobe, Fumi is delicate and sophisticated, naturally beautiful and demure.
Much of the film's humor is derived from the myriad differences between Tokyoites and those from the Kansai region (in central Japan), particularly Osaka, a difference comparable to that between New Yorkers and Angelinos. The film affectionately plays up these differences: the friendliness of Osaka's citizens, their popular preference for blander cuisine than that favored in Tokyo. A very funny sequence has Tora-san returning home to his family in Tokyo with such an impenetrable Osaka-ben (dialect) his family cannot understand him. Unfortunately, this play on words (e.g., the Kansai okini used in place of arigato for "thank you," etc.) is basically untranslatable, but the gist will be obvious even to non-Japanese speakers.
Though director/co-writer Yamada obviously favors rural, remote Japan to sprawling urban landscapes like Osaka, the film plays as a heartfelt valentine to the city and its people. Ashiya is especially funny as the browbeaten hotel manager, a kind of Japanese Mike Mazurki, who's initially annoyed by Tora-san's deadbeat attitude toward his ballooning hotel bill, only to be genuinely sorry to see him leave. Yamada wisely chose Osaka comedians and actors for key roles; Kon Omura, to name one, turns up in a sizable part as a dock worker.
The film was another big success for director Yamada. It placed fifth on the year's top grossing domestic films (the previous entry, Foster Daddy, Tora! ranked fourth), Kiyoshi Atsumi was nominated for another Japanese Academy Award, and Keiko Matsuzaka won several prizes for her performance.
Video & Audio
Tora-san's Many-splintered Love is presented in the usual non-anamorphic widescreen transfer, at about 1.85:1 from the 2.35:1 Panavision original. The image is okay, but Shochiku is merely being cheap in not providing Panorama with clones of the beautiful 16:9 transfers they used for their own Region 2 DVD releases (which do not have English subtitles). The audio is mono despite the Dolby Stereo declaration on the box; the English subtitles are adequate, much better than the earliest releases. Optional Chinese subtitles are also available.
Not much: 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.
As usual, those new to and curious about the series are best off starting with the first entry, Tora-san Our Loveable Tramp (1969), but fans of these films will find much to like in this Highly Recommended entry.
Note: This film follows Foster Daddy, Tora! (1980), and is followed by Tora-san's Promise (1981).
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.