Film Review: Tora-san, Wish You Were Here! (2019) - 影評《男人之苦 - 寅次郎返嚟啦!》

Updated: Jul 28

#FilmReview #TorasanWishYouWereHere #影評 #男人之苦寅次郎返嚟啦 #2019 #JapaneseCinema

FILE PHOTO: Screening of Tora-san, Wish You Were Here! (2019)  ©Ryota Nakanishi
FILE PHOTO: Screening of Tora-san, Wish You Were Here! (2019) ©Ryota Nakanishi

''Completed film perfectly reflects human relationships of its team (both cast and crew).''

- Dir. Yoji Yamada


Japan's last film maestro Dir. Yoji Yamada (1931-)'s milestone is the world's most long-lived genre film franchise 'It's Tough Being a Man'' (Total 50 films; 1969-2019) which starred Kiyoshi Atsumi (1928-1996) as the hapless protagonist, one of the most famous movie characters in Japan, Torajiro who is a man with wanderlust and antics from the old Japanese style town, Shibamata in Katsushika, Tokyo. In where, I met Dir. Yoji Yamada at the famous Shibamata Taishakuten Daikyoji Temple in 2015. Personally, I love that old little town as an oasis in the middle of spiritual desert of Tokyo.

Tora-san, Wish You Were Here! (2019) did location shooting at Shibamata station on the Keisei Kanamachi Line; Taishakuten-Sando and Shibamata Taishakuten, though the most of scenes were obviously shot at sound stage at Toho Studio.

Only a few shots were from Shibamata even Tora-san family house-restaurant Kurumaya (the model is the real restaurant Takagiyaroho) was rebuilt in the sound stage entirely.

My favourite town in the entire Kanto Region where we can revive memory of ''good old days'' environmental atmosphere that had existed before savage neoliberal policies ruin Japanese economy and especially the traditional lifestyle of the working class and petty bourgeoisie.

In short, Shibamata is the last remnant of old Edo neighbour where does not belong to the dystopia in our minds visually. Like the unfinished film project ¡Que viva México! (Dir. Sergei Eisenstein; 1932; 1979), geographical differences embody different historical eras and features of the country, Shibamata embodies the old Edo era.

Each instalment is filled with starlets and guest stars from different film studios due to the end of Five-Company Agreement in the late 1960s. A basic core story of Tora-san franchise is depicted as Torajiro's failure in love with starlets who called 'Madonnas' during the nationwide travel in each film episode. Thus, this last instalment is not an actual Tora-san film because of the absence of Tora-san as the protagonist.

In this case, Yoji Yamada took the similar narrative solution with Dir. Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952). In which, the last half of the film is staged at funeral of the protagonist and develops rest of the story with intercuts and flashbacks of interactions between the diseased protagonist and principal characters.

The same unique narrative structure was applied by Yoji Yamada for this last instalment yet Torajiro is not in the centre of the story to push any narrative by his action. It's his nephew Mitsuo Suwa (Hidetaka Yoshioka) who is the real protagonist of this story.

Undoubtedly, ''It's Tough Being a Man'' is the most important genre film franchise for the major Japanese film studio Shochiku. Indeed, Yoji Yamada unit is the most important filmmaker team after true film maestros Yasujiro Ozu (1903-63) and Masaki Kobayashi (1916-96) for Shochiku. Unlike stubborn art film-dogmatists taught, all of them were actually in the traditional influence of Hollywood films imported in Japan, and they made actual genre films in the Japanese market for the major studio successfully. The qualified successor of Yasujiro Ozu must be Dir. Yoji Yamada. Whatever art film critics depict other world filmmakers as privileged aristocratic successors of Ozu legacy, decades-long ''It's Tough Being a Man'' comedy franchise proved that who really deserves the claim.

Japanese film history began from 1896 when Thomas Alva Edison's Kinetoscope screening was held at Koube by a gun merchant Shinji Takahashi. Then, the first Japanese film was created by a photographer Shirou Asano in 1898. Later, Shochiku started film production and established the star system that imitated Hollywood in 1920. Unlike Hollywood, a third of Japanese films were still silent movies even in 1938 after the first full talkie film The Neighbour's Wife and Mine (1931).

Undoubtedly Japan had golden eras in its film history, at least four times (officially three times). One was 1930s (see Sisters of the Gion; Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1936) before the World War 2 began; the second was 1950s (see Rashomon; Dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1950) until 1963 when the total numbers of cinema audiences drastically decreased more than a half of 1958 after a decade of installation of television since 1953; the third was undoubtedly 1980s (see Teito Monogatari; Dir. Akio Jissoji; 1988 ; also Tampopo; Dir. Juzo Itami; 1985 and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind; Dir. Hayao Miyazaki; 1984) when Japan mostly closed to catch up with and exceed both Hollywood and Hong Kong films during the last golden era of Japanese economy. 1980s was ambitiously marked with numerous Hollywood or Hong Kong joint projects. Aesthetically, it can be seen as one of thriving chapters of Japanese film history.

The forth was from 2006 to 2019 (see Bay side Shakedown franchise; Dir. Katsuyuki Motohiro; 1998-2012). In this era, advertisement giants and private television stations (not its affiliated production companies) dominated and led film productions and its commercial marketing with cinema complex chain distributors, major film studios. Especially 2006 was its turning point that Japan screened total 821 films which was the biggest record since 1955; number of screens exceeded 3,000 (3062 screens) which was also the breaking record since 1970s. Then as later, domestic market share against imported films reached its peak in 2012 that Japanese film share hit 65.7%.

Update: So called a 'market share against foreign films' here means box office results not the number of annual production however originally it should have meant the production share against foreign films in Japan. As this review predicted, Japan's latest ''golden era'' ended in 2019 as Japanese film