No wonder "Tora-san Goes North" (Little Tokyo Cinema 1) has been the biggest hit in the long-running Japanese series. Guest stars are a Tora-san staple, but Toshiro Mifune, by now an international institution, is in a class by himself. What's gratifying--but not surprising--is that writer-director Yoji Yamada has created a role ideal for Mifune.
Mifune plays Dr. Ueno, a veterinarian living in a beautiful seaside community in Hokkaido with whom Tora-san (Kiyoshi Atsumi), our wandering peddler hero, strikes up an acquaintance. A gruff, long-time widower, the doctor lives in a messy cottage sorely lacking a woman's touch. The doctor is clearly lonely, but he is a proud, distant man at a crossroads in his life. He is at odds with his daughter Rinko (Keiko Takeshita) and in danger of losing the companionship of an attractive proprietress (Keiko Awaji, one of Mifune's leading ladies in the '60s) of a local snack shop. The rapport between star and director is such that one can only hope that Yamada will be able to direct Mifune in a film outside the series.
"Tora-san Goes North," which is No. 38 in the series, is a little tougher-minded and a little less sentimental than usual, which is all to the good. Never before has Tora seen so clearly what a misfit he is within his family than when he's in residence at his aunt and uncle's Tokyo sweet shop. Craving a sense of importance, Tora tends to lord it over his relatives, yet he feels guilty when he does it, which inevitably sends him back to his wanderings.