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Tora-san 17: Tora-san's Sunrise and Sunset
After a typically funny pre-credits dream sequence, this one a hilarious spoof of Jaws, Torajiro "Tora-san" Kuruma (Kiyoshi Atsumi), itinerant peddler and black sheep of his family, returns home to the sweets shop in Shibatama with Ikenouchi (Jukichi Uno), an apparently penniless (yenless?) old drunk, to whom Tora-san had taken pity when the stinky, shabbily dressed character couldn't pay his bar tab.
Staying in Tora-san's bedroom, Ikenouchi awakens the following morning and immediately begins treating his generous hosts -- Uncle Tatsuzo (Masami Shimojo), Aunt Tsune (Chieko Misaki), and Tora-san's sister, Sakura (Chieko Baisho) -- with extreme rudeness, bossing everyone around to fix his bath and serve him expensive eel for dinner. The family, even Tora-san, is surprised by the old man's chutzpah, but finds him so intimidating all are reluctant to approach him directly about moving on.
Later, on the road in Banshan, Tora-san becomes involved with a geisha named Botan (Kiwako Taichi), who later on a visit to Shibamata confesses that she too is broke, having lost two million yen (about $15,000 in 1976 dollars), her life savings, to one of her former customers, a callously unrepentant swindler. Tora-san and Umetaro (Hisao Dazai), the printing shop president next door to Tora-ya, become determined to recover Botan's lost money.
Tora-san's Sunrise and Sunset is an especially fine entry thanks to director and co-writer Yoji Yamada's slight deviation from the established formula, and two exceptionally good guest star performances from Uno and Taichi. Uno, a busy actor in both films (The Lucky Dragon No. 5) and on the stage, where he famously continued to act through a long a debilitating terminal illness, gives a remarkably subtle performance as an eccentric who knows few can ever understand him. Even Tora-san, with whom he can relate because of the peddler's unpretentiousness and forthrightness, in a key scene fails to understand Ikenouchi's reasoning for living the way he does and sadly returns to a kind of self-imposed isolation, even from his immediate family. Uno's son, actor Akira Terao (Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, Hanochi), was just getting started in films, and appears here in a small role as a city worker, whose boss is none other than Senri Sakurai, a member of the Crazy Cats, a popular Japanese comedy team.
Kiwako Taichi, who died tragically in a 1992 car accident very similar to the one that killed news anchor Jessica Savitch, is likewise superb as Botan, a popular, somewhat mischievous geisha who falls for Tora-san, though he won't allow their relationship get beyond a flirtatious one, with each teasing the other that they should sleep together and get married. Her performance has a strong verisimilitude, in the best world-weary, Mizoguchi tradition.
The film affords star Kiyoshi Atsumi some great comic and dramatic moments. One especially funny scene has Tora-san utterly out of his element as a special guest at a stiflingly formal local government-sponsored dinner, where in the midst of the mayor's speech, Tora-san commits a major faux pas with a runaway tarot root.
Besides series regulars including Chishu Ryu (Tokyo Story), the cast includes appearances by distinguished character actor Hideji Otaki as a suspicious book dealer, and early talkie actress Yoshiko Okada (An Inn in Tokyo) in a small role that wickedly references her notorious past, when she and a lover fled to the Soviet Union where he was eventually executed.
Video & Audio
Tora-san's Sunrise and Sunset is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen with a somewhat crisper image than consumers have been accustomed with Panorama's DVDs. The audio is mono, but clear of distortion, and the English subtitles are steadily improving. Chinese subs are also available.
The lone supplement, as usual, is a skimpy director's biography and filmography (in both Chinese and English), repeated in the CD-shaped booklet included with the disc.
One of the best in a long series of high-quality comedy-dramas, Tora-san's Sunrise and Sunset is a must-see for fans, and a good title for those unfamiliar with the films and interested enough to sample the series.
Note: This film follows Tora-san the Intellectual (1975) and is followed by Tora-san's Heart of Gold (a.k.a. Tora's Pure Love, 1976).
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.