Tora-san Meets the Songstress Again, the fifteenth entry in Shochiku’s sprawling Tora-san saga, begins with the eponymous peddler imagining himself as a valiant pirate captain rescuing thinly-veiled caricatures of his family members from bloodthirsty slavers. The film ends with him boarding a bus loaded with cabaret dancers en route to a spa getaway. The middle is, in comparison, a rather grounded (albeit expertly crafted) romantic comedy, replete with the requisite misadventures, misunderstandings, and missed connections.
While traveling with a runaway husband desperate to escape from the demands of both his stressful career and his overbearing wife, Torajiro happens to encounter a familiar face: Lily Matsuoka, last seen in Tora-san’s Forget Me Not (which unfortunately remains unavailable on either DVD or the Japan Cuts website). The itinerant singer is more than a mere old flame; she’s the elusive love of our hero’s life—the Vesper Lynd to his James Bond, the Otane to his Zatoichi, the Mothra to his Godzilla. Eventually, the pair returns to Tora’s sleepy hometown of Shibamata, where their relationship scandalizes the conservative, old-fashioned community.
Director Yoji Yamada tells the story in his typical straightforward, understated fashion, finding humor in the simplest scenarios; one surprisingly effective running gag, for instance, involves characters candidly discussing somebody (usually Tora-san) that has quietly crept into frame just behind them. He is equally adept at tugging on the viewer’s heartstrings: Lily, an unapologetically independent and free-spirited woman, constantly challenges our protagonist’s more outdated, misogynistic attitudes; the couple’s frequent arguments (and inevitable reconciliations) never fail to draw tears.
Even taking the series’ somewhat rigid formula into consideration, the plot of Tora-san Meets the Songstress Again is hardly revolutionary, but its smaller, subtler moments—Tora-san escorting Lily through the rain to apologize for an earlier tantrum, Tora-san’s sister vehemently denying the rumor that her brother is Lily’s pimp, Tora-san despondently admitting that he believes himself to be unworthy of marriage—make it an unforgettable experience.