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Tora San
Directed by Yoji Yamada
Starring Kiyoshi Atsumi, Chieko Baisho, Shin Morikawa, Cheiko Misaki

“I’m wrong nine out of ten times. Come on! Take a chance on that one! Take this chance!”
Kiyoshi Atsumi as Tora San

Tora San, a popular TV and Film character portrayed by Kiyoshi Atsumi, began as a character on a popular TV series. When the producers of the series decided to kill the character of Tora San, Japan was outraged. Soon, the public made its feelings known and starting in 1969-1995 (yes, you read that right), at least 2 Tora San films were produced and released each year. The good people at Animeigo have released the first 4 films of the series in a boxset and I tore into it like a rabid animal.

The Film Series

First, a brief description of the long running and much beloved character Tora San, played by Kiyoshi Atsumi. Tora San is a drifter, if you will. He often returns to either his home town, or the town of another family member or friend. He only travels with a small suitcase and is always seen wearing the clothing of a low end “yakuza”: a cheap cotton suit, wide waist cloth and low-priced sandals. He pedals wares on the street to keep just a bit of pocket change. And, he is often making a bit of a nuisance of himself, being socially inept or trying to help, and causing a problem. Plots of the films often find him trying to find love of some sort, or helping someone else in love and making a big mess of it all. Got it?

Animeigo has released the first four films in a boxset. Here is a look at each one:

Tora San: Our Loveable Tramp (Otoko was tsurai yo) is the first film in the series and the first introduction to the character of Tora San (if you didn’t catch the TV series). Tora San has returned to his home in Shibamata (Katushika), a district within Tokyo. His Aunt and Uncle (Shin Morikawa and Cheiko Misaki) always welcome him home, but are wary of his wild actions. As does his polite and mannered sister Sakura (Cheiko Basho). They all try to love him, and he does have his charms, but his outrageous antics often put the family at a crossroads. In this installment, Tora San is trying to help his sister Sakura with her arranged marriage but his ham fisted attempts to help might leave his sister a bachelorette for life.

Tora San’s Cherished Mother (Zoku otoko wa tsurai yo) Tora San is wandering in Kyoto, which is not a surprise. Why is our lovable tramp there? He heard a rumor that his mother is still alive and working somewhere called the Grand Hotel. He envisions a touching reunion and rushes to find her. Tora san is crushed to find that his mother is on mean old woman, and the Grand Hotel is nothing more than a seedy love hotel. He also gets advice from an English teacher who knew Tora San as a youngster, and attempts to find love with a teacher’s daughter.

Tora San: His Tender Love (Otoko wa tsurai yo: Futen no tora) Tora san is trying his families tolerance by pursuading a potential marriage prospect for Tora san to marry someone else. After being chased out of the house, Tora heads out dejected. His aunt and uncle decide to take a vacation to a hot spring resort in the mountains. They are looking for some good old fashioned rest and relaxation. But guess who works at the resort now? Tora San, that lovable tramp!

Tora San’s Grand Scheme (Shin otoko wa tsurai yo) Tora san is in a generous mood and offers a trip to Hawaii to his long suffering Aunt and Uncle to thank them for taking care of him and to try to make up for the trouble he has caused. But, as you know, things never go smoothly for Tora San or his family and of course, there is a beautiful young lady to fall in love with.

I found the Tora San films to be charming and entertaining and a wonderful look at Japanese life and culture during the years these films were shot (1969-1970). The performance by Kiyoshi Atsumi is fantastic and has been compared to Charlie Chaplin. I would agree with that. And sharp eyes will spot much beloved Japanese film actors Takashi Shimura and Chishu Ryu alongside Atsumi.

I know that your shelves are filled to the brim with Japanese chambara films, Jidaigeki films and horror films but trust me, you are going to want to make room on your shelves and heart for the bumbling but charismatic Tora San and his adventures.


The Video

Tora San: Collectors Set Films 1-4 is presented in anamorphic widescreen The colors are vibrant and the overall image is very respectable. The black levels are first-rate. I did not notice any instances of grain or artifacts. Once again, Animeigo is presenting films that can rate highly alongside Criterion releases.


The Audio

Tora San: Collectors Set Films 1-4 is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. The dialogue is crystal clear and well mixed. Animeigo once again does a fine job with subtitling offering multiple subtitle options, yellow or white and by selecting full subtitles provides cultural notes in addition to translated dialogue.


The Packaging and Bonus Features

Tora San:The Collectors Set Films 1-4 is presented in a cardboard slipcase with the four films presented on separate discs in standard amaray cases with Tora Sans congenial mug on the cover.

A nice set of bonus features await your discovery on this release. First up, Stuart Galbraith IV offers a truly informative and entertaining commentary gives a fascinating look into the actor Kiyoshi Atsumi’s background and how that helped with the character of Tora San and why these films are so beloved in Japan and the world.

Also offered are Program Notes that are comprehensively complete. Cast and Crew Bios, Image Galleries and Trailers are also offered.

An interactive map that shows where Shibamata is located and where Tora San’s travels have brought him make an excellent inclusion.

Rounding things out is a booklet filled with essays on Tora San, including one from famed Japanese film historian and writer Donald Richie.


Overall (Not an Average) 9/10

The Movies 9/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (not an average) 9/10