Tora-san’s Runaway returned to the silver screen 49 years later after its 1970’s debut in crisp 4K at New York City’s Japan Society last Friday. The dark overtone message of the comedy film? Hard work doesn’t necessarily pay off at all. Romantic, fairy tale style endings are for the imagination. Tora-san’s imagination that is…
This article contains spoilers for Tora-san’s Runaway.
Tora-san’s Runaway is an exhibit of fallacy in the promise of hard work always paying off. Throughout the film, lead character Torajirō Kuruma is pushed by his sister Sakura Suwa to make an honest living. That a man is meant to toil under the sweat of his brow. She urges Tora-San to stop living day-to-day, lackadaisically wandering through life, with no true planning for the future.
Tora-san takes his sister’s words to heart, knowing she wants the best for him… In fact, Tora-san takes the words so literally, he desires a job where he ‘can sweat and become oily’ over the course of the work day. Thus, Tora-san played by star Kiyoshi Atsumi, decides to reform his street life ways, first superficially through wearing a sharp suit and hat. Then eventually by taking a job selling fried Tofu. More on that later!
Initially, he consults with his uncle Tatsuzō, aunt Tsune, and sister Sakura on the most fitting job for him over dinner. His uncle suggests tempura if he wants to get “oily working” but Tora-san waves the idea off. Making it clear he dislikes tempura. Tora-san’s uncle is already skeptical of Tora-san’s grand, seemingly overnight promise to change…
Lack of uncle Tatsuzō’s blessings for Tora-san
Tatsuzō, played by Shin Morikawa, is not exactly the biggest supporter of Torajirō, outside of getting him out of the house. At the onset of the film, Tora-san’s aunt plays a relatively cruel practical joke on him… Informing Tora his uncle was about to pass on over a phone call.
Tora-san wants to do right by his uncle, and actually sets up all funeral arrangements… Only to discover his uncle is completely fine and well, just sleeping. As a result, his uncle is embarrassed by local town residents arriving to grieve and pay their respects.Though Tora-san’s uncle is mad at his wife for leading the practical joke in the first place, he is furious at Tora-san. Stating he’d rather be dead that have to see him. Even getting a full blown makeshift rope noose around his neck to make a statement. A vulnerable, weakened Tora-san decides to leave but more than hints he’d like someone to stop him, and sister Sakura [Chieko Baisho] obliges.
Why Tora-san really decides to change his life
Tatsuzō later goes to see his old boss, who’s actually dying… And has a railroad conductor son who refuses to see him. At first, Torajiro pushes and pushes for the railroad conductor to go with him and his vagabond street pal to see his dying boss. However, after the railroad conductor speaks of how he went to see his father once in his youth, only to see his dark side, beating on someone… Tora-san gives up silently. This moment changes Tora-san’s life. His boss passes on and never sees his flesh and blood to apologize, which his son called a selfish demand.
Tora-san tells his fellow vagabond street pal to leave, go back home to his father. In fact, hitting him when he wants to stay with Tora-san. From this point forward, Tora-san returns to his sister’s words and wants to be the type of person she spoke of. Instead of drifting through life and ending up like his boss.
Reality Hits for Torajirō Kuruma
After being rejected for several local jobs post-reform, Tora-san leaves in shame to the next town over. There the people don’t know of his reputation, and he gets a job as a bicycle-riding fried tofu salesman. The true apple of his eye, however? His new boss’ peer-aged daughter, Setsuko [Aiko Nagayama] who seems to take a liking to Tora-san. She laughs at all his jokes and visits him each night. Tora-san works harder than ever, and proudly tells his sister he might settle there over the phone.
Everything seems to be going in storybook fashion for Tora-san, his sister was right all along… Or was she?
A local tofu costumer arrives for dinner one night when Torajirō is at his most happiest… Torajirō had been asked the prior night if he’d be willing to stay on with the family’s Tofu business on permanent basis instead of as a replacement. When he said yes, Setsuko was grinning from ear to ear, telling Tora-san how happy he’d made her.
Tora-san comments at his most confident that the tofu costumer reminds him a lot of his sister Sakura’s husband Hiroshi [Gin Maeda]. A smiling Setsuko then explains how she and the ‘customer’ (a railroad conductor) had actually been meaning to get married for a while now. However, they needed a replacement at her mother’s tofu shop. Setsuko’s mother Tomiko [Tokuko Sugiyama] tells Torajirō they need to find a nice girl for him too, what type does he like? He replies, “someone like you” joking but crushed.
Moonlight Devastation and a Broken Heart
The next day, a devastated Tora-san heads back home. His sister chases him down as he leaves his uncle’s residence for a moonlight aimless walk. Tora-san earnestly tells her how he tried so hard but the honest life is not for him, holding back tears. He reunites with his younger vagabond pal the next day on the beach.
The more Tora-san attempted to escape his fate, the more life pulled him right back on track to his destiny. No happy ending to be found. In fact, Setsuko seems partially oblivious why Tora-san left in the middle of the night. Only starting to comprehend the feelings Torajirō held for her… But she does not go searching for him in some kind of audience warming epiphany. Rather, the credits roll just as Tora returns to the comfort of his old life. Hard work failing him.
The 4K Restoration Film Screening of Tora-San’s Runaway occurred on November 1, 2019 in New York City’s Japan Society. A new 4k screening of film, Tora-san Meets His Lordship, will be playing at Japan Society on December 6, 2019 at 7 p.m. EST. Purchase tickets to the event at this link.
Follow along Japan Society’s busy Film Schedule as part of their Tokyo Stories: Japan in the Global Imagination series.
Katharina Kubrick was a featured speaker at the Museum of Moving Image’s ‘Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey’ Exhibit Press Presentation.
Stanley Kubrick’s daughter Katharina Kubrick took part in a Q & A with media attendees during a full fledged presentation of the MoMI’s prized exhibit. Kubrick, discussed Stanley’s legacy, the timeless nature of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a desire to open more such exhibitions around the world. Barbara Miller (MoMI Director of Curatorial Affairs), Ellen M. Harrington (Director of Deutsches FilmInstitut Filmmuseum), Tomoko Kawamoto (MoMI Director of Public Information), and Eric Hynes (MoMI Curator of Film) all introduced the esteemed new addition to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York.
Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey will take over MoMI’s Changing Exhibitions Gallery from January 18 – July 19, 2020. A special exhibit Introductory Discussion with Katharina Kubrick takes place tonight (Jan. 17th) to lucky ticket holders at 7 pm sharp.
Katharina Kubrick answers The Natural Aristocrat’s question at 28:50 (timestamp) about Stanley Kubrick’s brave choice to drop composer Alex North’s already completed 2001 soundtrack in favor of classical pieces he’d used as temporary music. Katharina discussed Stanley’s deep connection to music as a whole, and a certain Waltz he listened in the editing room of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“If you think about the film, everything is spinning and whirling and very slow and graceful. So a Waltz worked perfectly.”
Katharina elaborated further on just how vital the use of music is to a film, naming Spartacus‘ soundtrack as one she wasn’t highly fond of.
“Music is terribly important, and very emotional. I think a lot of people use music badly. I watched Spartacus recently and I thought the music was appalling! And completely overwhelming and in the way of the movie. Stanley’s films used music to enhance the scene or to be the scene.”
Be sure to check out The Natural Aristocrat’s tribute article to Barry Lyndon’s use of Handel’s ‘Sarabande’ as a prominent piece overlaying the film.
Japan Society presented a fresh 4K restoration of 1977 film ‘Tora-san Meets His Lordship’ last month, a picture that truly teeters on the tightrope between comedy and tragedy.
While Tora-san Meets His Lordship’s 4K restoration at Japan Society opened to roaring crowd laughter with a quaint parody right off the gate… The film soon descended into the depths of calamity and ego humiliation that could make a Greek tragedy playwright blush. If Tora-san’s Runaway pulled the band aid of Tora’s hope for love right off, Tora-san Meets His Lordship might as well have taken an arm and leg. It’s teased in the movie that Tora will finally be given a real chance at romance and marriage. That the sun gently dances with him instead of upon him for the first time.
It’s all an elaborate ruse to trick both Tora and the audience as the picture soon pulls the rug out from under its plucky hero and its followers… Then kicks them out the door to a desolate, unforgiving cold world. Their only possession? A non-refundable bouquet of roses with no one to give it to. Though Torajiro ‘Tora’ Kuruma played by actor Kiyoshi Atsumi is happy go-lucky in nature, the ‘loss of face’ in this picture is astronomical.
From his family not so secretly naming a stray dog after Tora, to being made to feel he will never be good enough to win a wife’s hand at the film’s conclusion. That any figurative ring will forever stay in its box, gathering dust… As yet another suitor is forever picked over him. All the while Tora has to pin a smile on his face out of polite civility. A mental torture of an exercise seemingly drawn up in the depths of an imagined Hades. Tora, the perennial vagabond has to eternally watch others enjoy dinner and courtship together through a window.
Tora-san Meets His Lordship’s strategic ploy to game the audienceTora-san Meets His Lordship (1977) – Kyōko Maya as Mariko Tsutsumi – Screenshot/Photo Credit: © Shochiku Co., Ltd.
Mariko Tsutsumi [Kyôko Maya], a widow, is at the heart of Tora’s affections in Tora-san Meets His Lordship. Initially, Tora is asked by a local daimyō (Feudal style Lord) named Tonosama [Kanjûrô Arashi] to help him located his recently deceased son’s widow. At first, Tora takes the search in stride, deciding on a youthful plan to literally visit every residence, house, or store until a ‘Mariko’ is discovered. Just when Tora’s resolve begins to waver after hours of searching the first night, Mariko happens to show up on her own. Tonosama is called upon to meet Mariko while Tora is slowly but surely falling love with her.
Tonosama sheds tears, commenting that Mariko must have taken great care of his son before his passing. In a letter penned later in the film, he invites Mariko to live with him at his mansion-like residency. Even requesting she marry a new husband, with an exceptional specific recommendation. At first Tora’s rage is brewing inside of him, worrying at who this ‘chosen one’ would be… Until a sparkling revelation that the Lord’s recommendation for Mariko’s new husband is Tora himself!
Tora’s sister Sakura [Chieko Baishô] decides to personally deliver the request to Mariko’s work place, sans mention of marriage but with a hint of an additional request. Mariko arrives to Tora’s household to politely decline the request to move to the Lord’s house as she’s recently fallen in love with another worker. Shattering Tora’s heart into a million pieces to be swept off the floor casually, broom in tow, out of civility. Tora and his sister Sakura never mention the Lord’s request of Tora as her new husband. He simply sits smiling out of necessity, nothing left inside.Tora-san Meets His Lordship (1977) – From left to right: Kyōko Maya as Mariko Tsutsumi and Kiyoshi Atsumi as Torajirō Kuruma – Screenshot/Photo Credit: © Shochiku Co., Ltd.
Tora-san Meets His Lordship ends on a comedic high-note of the Lord Tonosama wanting Tora to live with him anyway even without Mariko… And Tora wanting to leave as soon as possible as he’s chased by Tonosama’s assistant to stay. The real meat and potatoes of Tora’s struggle however, somebody to love him back, remains unresolved. A distant hope, that becomes more dream than reality everyday.
Be sure to read The Natural Aristocrat’s impressions of Tora-san’s Runaway 4K Film Restoration at Japan Society!
NYC locals! Follow along Japan Society’s busy Film Schedule and attend a future film screening.
P.J. Soles is back as Marcy Taylor in new retro-themed horror, Candy Corn, and spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about the film, her life as an actress and everything in-between.
The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: There was a time in your life when you stepped away from acting. What brought you back to the horror film genre and ultimately playing Marcy Taylor in Candy Corn?
P.J. Soles: I was happy to do the fan conventions, which are wonderful, and spend time with my grandkids. I didn’t want to really work in movies anymore. I felt the conventions kept me connected to that part of my life. I was also busy doing other things, always toying with the idea of writing my autobiography… It’s just so hard to get going on a project about yourself! The first one to approach me for Candy Corn was actually Director Josh Hasty. He just made it sound so appealing and I liked him, we had a really nice conversation on the phone. But I laid it out! I said, “You know, I don’t work that great, I’m getting old, I might forget my lines!” It takes a lot of energy to pull it together. For me, making the moment real, being realistic on screen, and presenting a character that’s not you, not myself is important to me. But Josh convinced me!
What struck me first about Candy Corn was the beautiful cinematography. I always look at that, then I look at the characters and everybody was just painted amazingly. A great cast of characters! I liked the story and setting in the ’70s. I thought Director Josh Hasty was going for that retro look, which is appealing to me because it’s kind of familiar. [laughs] In terms of special effects, I thought they were beautifully done… If you can assign the word ‘beautiful’ to a ‘terrible’ special effect like someone’s spine getting ripped out. You can say they’re realistic! [laughs]
So, Candy Corn was the first ‘Yes!’ but I actually filmed it in December. I did Hanukkah first, then Killer Therapy, which is actually going to have a screening this October. There’s been no press about it, they’re keeping it on the down-low. In the horror community these days, they wanna keep things kind of quiet until the project has been fully edited, music added, and really pulled together.
When I was watching Candy Corn, there seemed to be a relationship in the air between Marcy and Sheriff Sam Bramford. Thus, I was anticipating some kind of interaction between Marcy and the Sheriff’s son, the lead antagonist as well. It felt like a natural fit. How do you feel about that?
Oh yeah, that would have been great! Well, it can’t happen in the sequel, if there is one. I live, he doesn’t! [laughs]
It’s nice to be in a horror movie and not get killed, right?
That’s actually my guiding principle now! I’m happy to play in any movie, I just don’t want to get killed. Not too many lines and no death scenes, that’s what I tell my agent! [laughs]
I recall an interview with VH1, where you mentioned wanting to ‘milk your death’ scene (as Lynda van der Klok) in Halloween for as long as possible to get screen time. Do you feel that’s what it takes as an actor to get time out there?
It’s your swan song. When you do that last scene on set, they say, “That’s a wrap on P.J. thank you,” and I don’t want that moment to come! (laughs) When I was going out of frame in Halloween, I suddenly realized I’m not going to be on screen anymore… So, I just kept doing the choked noises till John (Carpenter) yelled Cut!
Speaking of that era… You did a commercial for Pizza Hut Tacos back in 1979, how do you reflect back on that?
(laughs) Oh my God! You know what’s so funny about that? The shirt that I wear in that commercial is also the same pink-and-white stripped shirt that I wore in some of the promos we shot for Halloween. The promos were taken back at the casting offices by Kim Gottlieb and I had that very shirt on! Obviously, one of my favorite shirts. When I first saw that commercial I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s the shirt in all the Halloween stills!”
I actually don’t eat beef and never have since I was a kid and heard beef comes from cows. Which made me sad. Every time I took a bite in the commercial I had to spit it out. There is a spit bucket for those of us who don’t eat what we’re advertising! (laughs)
That incident that happened on the set of Carrie, where you ruptured your ear drum… As an actress, did you have any regrets about doing the role at the time because of that? Obviously, it did lead you to getting a role in Halloween so things more than worked out. Do you have any permanent hearing loss from what happened on Carrie?
What? (laughs) Just kidding! It was so painful… It was unbelievably painful to rupture my ear drum which was caused by a fire hose that the fire marshal said is not a good idea to use. Especially, (Carrie Director) Brian [De Palma] wanted it to bat my head around back and forth. So, Dick Ziker, the stunt coordinator, said, “Oh man, that fire hose!” It was an accident for sure but it went full force and I literally just blacked out, went down and slid down the bleachers. The grips came running and picked me up. It was the most intense pain I’ve ever felt besides childbirth!
For six months, I went to the doctor and I got workman’s comp, they put drops in my ear. I can hear better than ever! I do have a little scar tissue there and I have go to my ENT from time to time but it didn’t leave any lasting problem. I’m definitely totally happy that I did the movie! Probably, would have rethought the firehose in retrospect. But it all worked out okay.
It’s a good effect and talking about the last time you see me on the screen now, that was actually my swan scene on the film. I didn’t come back to the set after that. When you see me wince in that scene, that’s actually the pain, the initial pain of the ear drum. So, it’s kind of strange but these things happen.
Are you surprised how things work out, that John Carpenter noticed you for the way you said “Totally” in Carrie? I was even half expecting you to say it in Candy Corn!
Yeah, we talked about it but that would have been too much! (laughs) People expect me to say, “Merry Christmas, Totally!” now! It’s become my trademark! I wear the red hat in Carrie, I say “Totally!” in Halloween, and I have that awesome wardrobe in Rock‘n’ Roll High School. #1 fan of The Ramones.
I told John [Carpenter] and Debra [Hill] that I was going to push it and try to say it every time I spoke, and if it gets annoying to let me know. But they never did. I’ve never made an accurate count actually. But a group of college boys told me at a convention that they have a drinking game where they take a shot every time I say “Totally” and they’ve never seen the end of the movie! I said, “I didn’t say it that many times!” (laughs) I think the real number is eleven someone told me but it seems like more than that.
Would you consider a role in a reboot of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School?
Reboot? When is that happening?! (laughs) I don’t know, depends who’s making it. Years ago, Howard Stern wanted to do it. But I think that was 30 years ago. (laughs) Maybe a sequel? What happened to all of us. Can you even find another band these days like The Ramones? I don’t think so! God, I wish! Don’t you wish? Where are the new Rolling Stones and The Eagles, where is this generation’s music? Come on guys! I’m waiting for it!
In the VH1 interview above, you mention not being a fan of The Ramones’ music until you met them. How come?
Well, no because I’d never heard them.
How did that happen?!
Well it was 1979, and I was listening to The Eagles, Jackson Browne, and Joni Mitchell all those people at the time. The Ramones weren’t on the radar yet in California. Maybe in New York which is probably why Allan Arkush, the Director, knew about them. But they were just starting, they were just coming aboard the scene, definitely well known in the CBGBs and all that in New York but not in Los Angeles. So, when Allan gave me a cassette and I put it in, I just really didn’t relate to it and I didn’t know what it was… But I said, “Alright, I’m their #1 fan!” (laughs)
It took me I would say, probably ten weeks to two years to really hear their music and understand what it was. Now, it’s just so commonplace and amazing! I really love The Ramones!
What happened at that Star Wars audition for Princess Leia with George Lucas?
We weren’t told what movies they were casting, we were just told there would be two directors at that time. This was back around in 1975. They weren’t really that known yet. I mean I think Brian De Palma had done a couple of movies but he wasn’t really an established director yet, at least not in the mainstream. Probably, again in New York City. So, I walked in, I had my red hat on! I had just moved to L.A. two weeks prior from Manhattan, where I had lived for five years and wanted to get into movies. I was living at the Magic Hotel in Hollywood, and my modeling agency sent me up on this audition.
Brian just looked at me and then looked at George and said I’ll put it on my list. Then he said, “Next audition bring your hat!” Then there were three subsequent auditions after that with the whole cast that actually ended up being in the movie. I don’t think he picked one person in all those three subsequent casting sessions and screen tests that didn’t end up in the movie. So, he had a very good eye I think for casting. A year later, we found out it was for Star Wars. But even then, it wasn’t what it was today. Star Wars took a while to catch on too at the time.
Was that the one role you wish you got?
No! Oh my gosh, I love my Norma! She wasn’t even in Stephen King’s book, there was no Norma in the Carrie book. But Brian De Palma had put the one line in, ‘Thanks a lot Carrie, ‘ when she blew the volleyball game in the beginning. I really was only on for a week. But after he saw the dailies for that… I had rainbow pins on my hat and I hit Sissy [Spacek] over the head with my hat.
The pins got stuck in her hair and I just yanked it out. So, it just looked so nasty! I apologized to Sissy but she said, “No, this is going to look great!” Brian laughed and thought it was so funny. He said she’s on for the rest of the shoot. I’m going to pair her up with Nancy Allen, the two of them are going to be my my little bad girls. [laughs] So, that was awesome!
You mentioned wanting to work on your autobiography earlier. What are some parts of your past that you’d like to be part of it?
I went overseas for all of my childhood. My father was from Holland and my mother was from Englewood, New Jersey and they met in Germany after the war. Her first husband was killed and she went over there to help with the rebuilding as a secretary. My dad was helping Jews escape Holland and he was captured and put in a Nazi work camp. He was released by the American army and brought to the same base as my mother and so they met.
It took a whole lot of circumstance for me to be brought into the world! I was born in Germany and then my dad got a job with a company where he had to open up branch offices for around the world. We moved to Morocco, Venezuela (Maracaibo) where I spent six years, and then Brussels in Belgium.
I went to a high school in the International School of Brussels and learned French and Spanish. I was really on a writing and language track rather than an acting thing. Although, I had always acted in a lot of the school productions but it wasn’t something I thought was even possible. I hadn’t watched a lot of movies growing up. I went to Briarcliffe College in New York state in the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year, where I was going to transfer to Georgetown University in Washington.
My roommate was from the city and I stayed with her for the summer because my parents had transferred to Istanbul, Turkey. I happened to come across The Actors Studio and there was a sign, ‘We’ll trade running spotlight for auditing classes,’ so I ran a spotlight on Joanna Miles and Scott Glenn that whole summer. I met a guy who happened to be Joshua White of The Joshua Light Show.
He told me, “Girls, on the catwalk probably shouldn’t be wearing short dresses!” [laughs] He convinced me to quit college and get serious about acting, and start acting, so he got me an agent. I did commercials, I was on a soap opera and it got everything Rolling. But when I think of my autobiography, I’d start with my life as a child because I think that was enough of a life… Without anything else afterwards. But then on top of that there was this wonderful acting career!