"Tora's Island Adventure" (at the Kokusai) is No. 36, incredible as that seems, in the never-ending Tora-san series,
Interestingly, it is one of the best, seemingly because writer-director Yoji Yamada is clearly tiring of the series' formula and tries to break away from it as much as possible.
Never before have Tora-san's relatives, anchored to that sweets shop in working-class Tokyo, seemed so oppressive--especially his sister (Chieko Baisho)--in their sheer goodness and endless forgiveness and understanding of the feckless Tora. There seems less humor and more pathos in Yamada's treatment of the usual romantic vicissitudes of Tora (Kiyoshi Atsumi), that good-hearted itinerant peddler who never quite gets the girl but is as helpful and kindly to the troubled as Mary Worth.
Tora comes pretty close this time. Off to a hot springs resort to talk sense to a neighborhood runaway (Jun Miho), he's distracted by a chance meeting with a beautiful woman (a most affecting Komaki Kurihara), who has been teaching on a nearby island for 15 years.
The port town of Shimoda and nearby Shikine Island are among the most idyllic spots Yamada has ever chosen for filming, and they set the mood for the romance that Tora-san, still quaint in his porkpie hat, knitted stomach-warmer and loud plaid suit, hopes will happen yet. Ever the celebrator of sentiment and gentleness, Yamada achieves in "Tora's Island Adventure" (Times-rated: Family) evocative moments the equal of those all-too-rare features he gets to make outside his 17-year-old series.
'TORA'S ISLAND ENCOUNTER'
A Shochiku presentation. Executive producers Kiyoshi Shimazu, Shigeru Nagawa. Director Yoji Yamada. Screenplay Yamada, Yoshitaka Asama. Camera Tetsuo Takaba. Music Naozumi Yamamoto. Art director Mitsuo Dekawa. With Kiyoshi Atsumi, Komaki Kurihara, Takuzo Kawatani, Jun Miho, Chieko Baisho, Masami Shimojo, Chieko Misaki, Hisao Dazai, Gin Maeda, Chishu Ryu. In Japanese, with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.