On Second Thought:
Our Look Back at the Tora-san Films

“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” so wrote W.H. Davies, the Victorian tramp poet, who had so romanticized the life of a penniless and purposeless wanderer.  But who may probe inside the heart of a petty salesman who has spent half of his prime days in quest for love and a place that he can call home?

Kuruma Torajiro, our clumsy but kind-hearted protagonist, fled home at 16 after a row with his folks.  For the next two decades, Tora-san, as he is known, has been roving round every corner of Showa and early Heisei Japan, making a meagre living selling cheap toys and other useless pieces of junk.

One day, Tora-san feels tired.  Despite the bliss of a carefree life, there’s an emptiness inside him.  So he decides to return, like a prodigal son, to his hometown to find his surviving relatives and to reunite with his half sister, Sakura.

There begins new a new chapter of hilarious adventures of Tora-san, which are sometimes romantic, sometimes melancholic, but always comical and joyful.

“Otoko ha tsu ra i yo” or “It’s tough being a man” is a series of films directed by Yoji Yamada.  The series spanned 48 movies in total, ran from 1969 to 1995, and holds the record as the second longest film series of all time — the first being the Wong Fei-hung films of Hong Kong.

All of the Tora-san films star Kiyoshi Atsumi as the titular character — a record in its own right — and production only ended because Atsumi-san passed away in 1996.

Watching the films in order is must. Not only can you see the changing faces of Japanese society over a quarter of a century, but you can also spot the best of the picturesque scenery of Japan while enjoying charming adventures of a man on a mission.

The first four movies are part of a box set. The other forty-four films? Well, while many can be found online, collecting every film may be part of your very own Tora-san journey.


Photo Courtesy of Shochiku Co. Ltd.