"Tora-san's Forbidden Love" (at the Kokusai) is, incredibly enough, No. 34 in the 16-year-old series. Even more incredible is that there's been no letup in the quality of the films, thanks to the commitment of writer-director Yoji Yamada and his cast of regulars.
As he has so often before, the feckless, obstreperous but irresistibly good-hearted Tora (Kiyoshi Atsumi) once again falls in love with an unattainable woman. In this instance, he's befriended a stockbroker (Masakane Yonekura) who's so hard-working that he breaks down under pressure and disappears, leaving his lovely wife (Reiko Ohara) distraught.
When she turns to Tora for help, he's so upset over Yonekura's disappearance that his brother-in-law (Gin Maeda), in an unthinking attempt to calm him down, points out that if Yonekura never resurfaces, he himself will have a clear field to pursue Ohara. Tora immediately starts dreaming of a life with her.
"Tora-san's Forbidden Love" marks the series' first foray into the grinding white-collar world of big business, and the humanist Yamada's repulsion at the vast skyscraper canyons of Tokyo's financial district is palpable.
Yamada and his usual co-writer Yoshitaka Asama have created some wonderful scenes for the inherently comic (but often very touching) Atsumi. None are better than his long musing on how he'd love to gaze all day at Ohara, admiring the beauty of her every feature.
"Tora-san's Forbidden Love" (Times-rated Family) is a little slow in getting to its wrap-up, but it's the kind of honestly sentimental film that leaves you feeling better when the lights go up than when they went down.
'TORA-SAN'S FORBIDDEN LOVE'
A Shochiku presentation. Producers Kiyoshi Shimazu, Shigehiro Nakagawa. Director Yoji Yamada. Screenplay Yamada, Yoshitaka Asama; based on a story by Yamada. Camera Tetsuo Takaba. Music Zaozumi Yamamoto. Art director Mitsuo Dekawa. With Kiyoshi Atsumi, Chieko Baisho, Reiko Ohara, Masakane Yonekura, Masami Shimojo, Chieko Masaki, Gin Maeda, Hisao Dazai, Jun Miho, Chishu Ryu. In Japanese, with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.