There are 50 films in the Tora-san series and it holds the record as the longest running film series where one actor. Kiyoshi Atsumi, played the same character (49 films - well really all 50). It is a sweet and lovely series about a nice guy who keeps trying despite not always succeeding.
The series is so much part of Japanese culture, in many ways just as much as gangsters, samurais and ghosts with long black hair that the Japan Society ran a retrospective of the series a year or so ago which reintroduced the films to a whole generation of New Yorkers who really had no idea who the Tora-san was. It is a character that has bled out into other media as well and is in it way a cultural phenomenon.
Now with the release of the 50th and final film in the series Japan Cuts is running three films with the series along with the final film. (I should note that TORA-SAN, MY UNCLE #42 was not made available to critics at the time of this writing)
I have a mixed relationship with the series. I've seen a number of the films over the years and while I liked them I was never in love with them (which as the reason I didn't' cover the earlier series at the Japan Society). All of the stories follow a similar pattern see below) I honestly couldn't tell you which films I saw before taking a look for the Japan Cuts screenings.
That said if you have never seen any of the series you really should watch a couple of the earlier films and close it out with the final film since, knowing it's the end of the road for the little guy, it is certain to bring a tear or two to your eyes.
TORA-SAN OUR LOVEABLE TRAMP #1
Sets the mold for the series as traveling salesman Torajiro “Tora-san” Kuruma coming home after 20 years gone and instantly causing all sorts of laughter and tears as he gets involved in his family's business, wrecking romances, including his own, setting up others before heading off again, alone. It is a pattern that would be followed over and over again over the next 5 decades and 49 films.
It is a sweet little film.
TORA-SAN MEETS THE SONGSTRESS AGAIN #15
This time out Tora-san is reacquainted with the love of his life who has gotten a divorce since last appearing several films earlier. However Tora-san's behavior complicates things. Will they find happiness? Probably not and that is not giving anything away since the pair were destined to cross paths several more times in the series.
This is a solid entry that kept me entertained (and made me want to see the other meeting of these characters)
TORA-SAN WISH YOU WERE HERE #50
Final film in the series focuses on Tora-san's nephew runs into an old sweetheart and friends and family who remember his uncle (seen in copious flashbacks). Its a final farewell to the character and the series that tugs at the heart strings as many of the themes and ideas from the long running series are brought to a close.
For information on the Tora-san films and all of the titles play Japan Cuts go here.