Sunday, November 16, 2008

Yoji Yamada -- "Tora-san, Our Lovable Tramp": Q&A at Japan Society, 10/17/08

Yoji Yamada has become of late one of my favorite directors. This prolific Japanese filmmaker creates films that are old-fashioned in the very best sense. He is a humanist in every sense of the word: the relationships and struggles of common people are solidly at the center of his works, and all of his stylistic choices are in the service of this focus. Yamada's recent "samurai trilogy," The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade, and Love and Honor, based on the novels of Shuhei Fujisawa, proved that his talent remains undimmed after 72 films (and counting). Yamada, however, will forever be best known as the director of the 48-film series featuring as its main character Tora-san, the itinerant traveling salesman played by Kiyoshi Atsumi. Yamada collaborated with Atsumi on all except the third and fourth films in this series, which ended with Atsumi's death in 1996. All of these films followed the same template: Tora-san returns to his home after a long period away, and stumbles into adventures, always meaning well yet managing to make a mess of things. He invariably falls in love with a woman along the way, but ultimately a lasting relationship is not to be. Yamada assembled an impressive stock company with these films, playing family and friends of Tora-san, most notably the exquisitely lovely Chieko Baisho, as Tora-san's sister Sakura, and brief appearances by Chishu Ryu, Ozu's frequent lead actor, as a priest. These actors also frequently acted in Yamada's non-Tora-san films. All of these films exhibit the qualities that makes Yamada's films so special: a deep love of humanity, a generosity of spirit, and an engaging mixture of humor and sentiment that makes these films always a pleasure to watch.

On October 17, 2008, the Japan Society in New York launched their monthly film series, "Best of Tora-san," running through May 2009, and consisting of eight episodes selected by Yamada himself. The first screening was of the very first film in the series, Tora-san, Our Lovable Tramp (1969). Yamada gave a live Q&A after the screening via digital video feed from Tokyo's Keio University. Below are clips of that conversation.

Yamada's opening remarks:

On the transition from a television series to a film series:

On how the character of Tora-san relates to certain Japanese cultural concepts (Part 1):

(Part 2):

On the influence of rakugo (Japanese storytelling art) on the conception of Tora-san's character, and the origin of his name:

Yamada's answer to my question about the casting of Chishu Ryu:

On the connection of the Tora-san films to the social and political realities of the time (Part 1):

(Part 2):

On the status of Tora-san as a national icon:

And finally, Yamada joins the Japan Society audience for a virtual photo-op:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow Chris, I had no idea you were video recording the event! Thank you for the great round-up of the event, and I'll see you at the next Tora-san screening! -Ryo