The entry breaks away from the usual format somewhat while treading familiar ground in other ways. The opening titles (and its iconic theme song) are interrupted by a nice scene were itinerant peddler Tora-san (Kiyoshi Atsumi) asks a passerby to help him with the proper kanji characters in a postcard salutation to his family back home. But the big difference is that the first half of the film largely steers clear of Tora-san's hometown altogether, the old-fashioned Shibamata street in Tokyo, with Tora-san instead plying his trade and spending the film's first-half in Kyoto.
Wandering the banks of the Kamo River, Tora-san helps fix an ojiisan's (old man's) broken clog and treats him to a little snack, and in return the old man, Sakujiro Kano (famed Kabuki actor Nizaemon Kataoka) invites Tora-san to a fancy restaurant. They both get drunk and the next morning Tora-san finds himself in Kano's large home, which Tora-san mistakes for an inn. It turns out that Kano is a National Living Treasure, Japan's premier ceramist. Still not quite getting it, Tora-san thinks the man an ordinary potter, much to the chagrin of Kano's devoted disciple, Kondo (Akira Emoto, very much cast against type), but his straight-talking impresses and amuses Kano's maid, Kagari (Ayumi Ishida), a pretty widow from Tango, a coastal town on the Sea of Japan in northern Kyoto Prefecture.
Kagari had long been semi-engaged to another of Kano's disciples, Kanbara (Masane Tsukayama), but he abandons her when he gets the chance to marry into a rich girl's family. Kano is furious at Kagari's passive reaction, and she in turn quits her job and returns home to work at her mother's (Tokuko Sugiyama) fishery there. Tora-san eventually shows up, but quickly feels awkward when Kagari, a heavy drinker since her husband's death, seems to fall in love with him.
Hearts and Flowers for Tora-san is entertaining enough but doesn't much stand out, except that for the first time Tora-san's 11-year-old nephew, Mitsuo (Hidetaka Yoshioka) takes an active role in the story. As a toddler and elementary school student, Mitsuo tended to hang around in the background, but here is drafted by Tora-san into virtually chaperoning him during a rendezvous with Kagari in Kamakura. Mitsuo is alternately entertained and appalled by his black sheep of an uncle and his behavior, but even at this early date there are signs that Yamada was already thinking in terms of gradually molding Mitsuo into a younger generation Tora-san, full of emotion, not-too-bright, and equally hapless in matters of the heart.
The relationship between Tora-san and the ceramist is a reworking of the one between Tora-san and His Lordship, but the results are entertaining anyway, with Tora-san unable to grasp the importance of this great sensei in his field, and never quite believing he could afford such a fine house without doing "something shady" on the side. When Kano presents Tora-san with one of his most-prized works, Tora-san is annoyed that he's expected to carry such a cumbersome thing around with him, playfully tossing it about as if it were a teacup purchased at a 99-yen shop. Later, after leaving it at Tora-ya, his family's sweets shop, the print shop president/friend next door, "Tako" (Hisao Dazai / Tazai) uses it as an ashtray.
While all of that is quite amusing, the relationship between Tora-san and Kagari, and her own story, never generates much interest, despite the fact that she's obviously drawn to Tora-san, though it's never entirely clear just how or why. She's clearly lonely and unhappy with her life, but doesn't really spend enough time with Tora-san, at least not that we see, to justify her sudden apparent affection toward him. Singer-actress Ishida is fine, but director and co-writer Yoji Yamada's characterization remains stubbornly nebulous.
Video & Audio
Hearts and Flowers for Tora-san is presented in the usual non-anamorphic widescreen transfer, this one letterboxed at about 1.85:1 from the 2.35:1 Panavision original. The image is okay but, as usual, Shochiku is merely being cheap in not providing Panorama with clones of their 16:9 transfers. The mono audio is just okay. The improved subtitles are credited as being provided by the Japan Foundation, and are much superior to those used on the earliest Panorama releases. Optional Chinese subtitles are also available.
Again as usual, supplements are limited to the booklet and onscreen director's biography and filmography (in both Chinese and English).
Hearts and Flowers for Tora-san is no better than average for this series, but then again this series' average is awfully high, so fans aren't likely to be too disappointed. Recommended.
Note: This film follows Tora-san's Promise (1981), and is followed by Tora-san the Expert (1982).
Stuart Galbraith IV is a film historian based not far from where this films Kyoto scenes were shot. His 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.