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  • Shona McCarthy

JFF 2020: TORA-SAN IN GOTO (2016)



I had made the decision to watch this film because I thought it was the next iteration of the Otoko wa Tsurai yo movies. So, I was very surprised by what this film turned out to be. It is, far from a slapstick comedy, a story about family, love and how the passage of time brings change.


The film gives us some beautiful, sweeping introduction shots of Goto, and a brief introduction of what sort of place it is. One where the population is dwindling and aging; one that doesn't seem to be wealthy. By some reviewers, this film is called a documentary. But to say that it is simply a documentary about a noodle-making family will mislead the potential viewer into thinking it is simply a story about rural noodle production. This isn't so. The format and nature of the depictions is more similar to a reality TV show. We get to see the family making noodles together. But the emphasis is on the family, not the noodles. The noodles merely serve as a visual metaphor for the ties that bind the family unit.

The story mostly follows the life of a family as the children grow up. And it is a unique family of 7 children. Scenes where the father, the titular Tora-San, expresses tears over his children are genuinely touching. One does not normally see such open expressions of emotion in Japanese life. In Japan, expressions of feeling are usually reserved for close friends and family. So, the documentary allows us in where we otherwise would not have. That the family is so open and honest means that we get to know the inner thoughts of many of the family members, since they are often given talking-head moments where they can explain their own thinking. Some actually express hate for each other. Sometimes we get to watch them go through personal revelations right before our eyes. The film so utterly focusses on each of them that we get an odd sense of knowing these people well, and yet not knowing them at all at the same time. And we get to know a lot. 22 years of family history are condensed into about 2 hours. Yet, somehow, the pace never feels rushed. I was left feeling as though I had the perfect amount of information. I won't give you, the reader, any spoilers. Can there be such a thing as spoilers in a family history? I don't know. But by the end, the directors had overleaved moments from the early life of the family with more recent moments in such a way where I was overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia. I knew that I wasn't living their lives. But I understood that they would never live those moments again, either.


It isn't one of those films where I would rave about it and say that everyone must go and see it. But I will say that if you do get a chance, you should. By watching such a passage of time, you feel as though somehow you have grown along with those characters. You feel like somehow your life has been made a little richer by observing theirs.

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