Sunday, June 14, 2009
Strictly for ardent fans of Tora-san.
Anyone who has ever clicked on the profile button of this blog would be familiar with the eclectic nature of my top 10 favourite films. And while some may note the presence of what certain people refer to as "arthouse films", others may wonder what films like Raj Kapoor's "Bobby" are doing there.
Closer to the truth would be those who notice the one constant factor in my choice of favourite films: Sentimentality. And that would explain the nature of my own films which, unfortunately, has been the reason why some people disapprove of them so.
Towards the end of 2002, I stumbled upon a Japanese film called "Tasogare Seibei" (Twilight Samurai), written and directed by an old man named Yoji Yamada. So taken was I with the simplicity of the story, and the basic yet deep and humble emotions that dwelled within it, that I hungrily found out as much as I could about Yamada-san's body of work.
I remember Encik Hassan Muthalib, one of my three gurus of filmmaking, telling me to look out for the Tora-san series. Yamada-san had made 48 films in the series, apparently, so I searched everywhere I could -- in Singapore, Hong Kong, and France -- for the very first one.
Happily, I found a dvd copy of it in Hong Kong. It was the last on the shelf, and it was entitled "Otoko wa Tsuraiyo" (It's Hard Being A Man).
The film opened with a square-faced man in his late thirties, roaming around the Japanese countryside, with his voice narrating his plight. He had left home as a teenager after getting into a fight with his father, his head bloodied as a result of it. He had left behind a younger sister named Sakura, now living with some relatives after their parents had died. It was spring now, and watching the Sakura flowers falling made him think about going home. He sang a song, and in it, apologised to Sakura for having been such an unreliable brother to her.
It all sounds terribly melodramatic, obviously, and in a way it was, but as you can see from the third video above, the film offers laughter as well as tears. There are no heroes in the story, and neither are there villains. Every character on screen is capable of both heroism and villainy.
In other words, they are just like you and me.
I have since watched 30 of the 48 in the Tora-san series. Sometimes you get mad at his rude, calloused ways, but sometimes you can't help but admire his kindness and courage in the face of adversity.
In the end, Tora-san was just a man. Worthy of scorn, worthy of admiration, and most of all, worthy of our love and compassion.
On August 4, 1996, the main actor of the Tora-san series, Kiyoshi Atsumi, died, after two years of battling pulmonary tuberculosis. Thus ended the world's longest movie series, in the history of cinema.
Recently I saw the 48th installation, the last in the series, and Atsumi-san clearly looked weak, despite the laughter and bravado so characteristic of Tora-san.
At the end of the film, when the credits rolled, I wept and wept. I realised then that it wasn't just Tora-san I was weeping for. It was for every man I had ever known and learned to love -- my father, my husband, my brother, nephews, and even my friends.
I wept recognising that no one was perfect, and that if we expected to be loved for all our imperfections, why are we so reluctant to accept and forgive the imperfections of others?
("Otoko wa Tsuraiyo" is now officially my number one favourite film of all time.)