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 audience
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 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.