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Tea Leaves

The meaning of Tora-san

More than five decades on, unique Japanese film series remains relevant

Film nostalgia at the Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Museum. (All photos by Stephen Mansfield)

A remarkable series of films about a very ordinary Japanese salesman, "Otoko wa Tsurai yo" ("It's Tough Being a Man"), is unique in holding the world record for the longest running movie series, a total of 48 films, starring the same actor.

In a climate of falling cinema audiences, closures and cutbacks in the industry, the series, featuring the inspired casting of Kiyoshi Atsumi, a former vaudeville performer, ran from 1969 to 1995. It helped to keep Shochiku, its production company, solvent at a time when filmmakers were offering, in the words of the critic Donald Richie, a lurid surfeit of "nudity, teenage heroes, science-fiction monsters, animated cartoons, and pictures about cute animals."

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