Tokyo Film Fest to Open With Reboot of Yoji Yamada's 'Tora-san'

Courtesy of Shochiku Ltd
'Welcome Back, Tora-san'

The 50th film in the series from the legendary director, the longest-running in world cinematic history starring the same lead actor, will also mark 50 years since the first release.

The premiere of Welcome Back, Tora-san by Yoji Yamada, a reboot of the classic, record-breaking comedy film series, will open this year's Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF).

The It's Tough Being a Man (Otoko wa Tsuraiyo) films, directed by the legendary Yamada, are universally referred to as Tora-san (after the lead character Torajiro Kuruma, played by Kiyoshi Atsumi) in Japan, where they were nothing short of a social phenomenon. They also have a cult following in China, mostly through pirated copies.

The plot went largely unchanged throughout the films: Traveling salesman Tora-san would fall in unrequited love with a local woman — referred to as a "Madonna" — and argue with his family when he returned to Tokyo.

There was a film released every summer and year-end from 1969 to 1989, then one a year from 1990 to 1995. 

When Atsumi became too ill to play the iconic character, Yamada brought the series to a close, having directed 46 of the 48 films and writing all of them. They hold the Guinness World Record for the most films in a series starring the same lead actor. Including the TV series, this will be the 50th production and mark 50 years since the first was released.

"In this age of uncertainty and unease, I sincerely hope that, like Tora-san's line, "There are times when I think it was good to be born," this film's 50 years of production history will once again light a beacon of hope for audiences around the world," said Yamada, whose The Twilight Samurai was nominated for best foreign language film at the 2004 Oscars. 

The new film will focus on Tora-san's nephew and his romantic tribulations. Yamada has said Atsumi as Tora-san will appear, but it is likely to be in flashback rather via CG. It will also feature regulars from the series: Gin Maeda, Hidetaka Yoshioka and Kumiko Goto, as well as Chieko Baisho as Tora-san's sister. 

"Watching the end credits, tears came to my eyes. It was always very exciting to anticipate the latest work in this series every summer and New Year holiday," said TIFF director Takeo Hisamatsu of the reboot. 

The fest has struggled to secure major international premieres for its opening film in recent years and has shifted strategy by going with a local production.

The 32nd TIFF is set to run Oct. 28-Nov. 5 in central Tokyo.