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Review: Tora-san, My Uncle

In Tora-san, My Uncle, the forty-second episode of Yoji Yamada’s long-running Tora-san series, the eponymous peddler surrenders the role of protagonist to his teenage nephew, Mitsuo (played by Hidetaka Yoshioka, who recently reprised the part in 2019’s Tora-san, Wish You Were Here). He remains an integral piece of the narrative puzzle, of course; he may be a bit older and wiser (though not by much), but he’s ultimately still the same boisterous, lovable buffoon. At this point in the saga, Kiyoshi Atsumi plays him as an almost mythical figure: like a mischievous trickster god, he seems to materialize out of thin air whenever a family member absentmindedly utters his name, sowing chaos and discord—which inevitably lead to catharsis, healing, and reconciliation. The film makes an effort to humanize him, as well, exploring his struggle to set a good example for his dear sister’s wayward son.

The movie spreads its plot a little too thin (the “road trip” structure offers plenty of gorgeously photographed scenery, but slows the pace to an interminable crawl as both conflict and slapstick comedy take a back seat), but it manages to shine in its smaller pleasures. It’s fascinating to see how the characters and their relationships have matured along with the returning actors; Gin Maeda’s evolution into a stern father with a heart of gold, for example, is particularly compelling. Additionally, the thematic subtext is as solid as ever: Tora-san is a rebel to his very bones, always defying outdated social conventions and challenging narrow-minded attitudes. While Tora-san, My Uncle doesn’t quite rank alongside Tora-san, Our Lovable Tramp and Tora-san Meets the Songstress Again in terms of overall quality, when judged on its own merits, it’s a perfectly enjoyable domestic drama.

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