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Moviegoers will soon be bombarded with yet another James Bond film — No Time To Die, opening in early April —  and will no doubt marvel at the longevity of the 007 series.

Surely at 25 titles from its original British producers plus two independently-made versions, the Bond series earns the title of the world’s longest. Right?

Well, wrong.

That title is easily held by yet another movie series, one that is not terribly well known in the West — Japan’s Tora-San, the world’s longest running.

Begun at Shockuku studios back in 1961, the latest sequel (Tora-san, Wish You Were Here) opened commercially in Japan in late December.  It is the 50th title in the series — nearly double the world’s total Bond output.

Why haven’t we heard (or seen) more about this remarkable set of films?

Most likely because the Tora-san movies are gentle comedies reflecting the closeness of Japanese family life.  They represent an idealized version of working/middle-class characters. In any case, the series has long since become so popular — in Japan — that it is regarded as something of a social and cultural phenomenon.

In other words, comedy doesn’t travel well, especially from destinations in the Far East.  The Tora-san series may have a following of fans in China.  But Europe and the U.S., not nearly as much.

That’s a shame since the movies provide excellent light entertainment. The movies revolve around a central character, Tora-san (or Mr. Tora), a genial, bull-in-a-china-shop traveling salesman, a bachelor who falls in love too easily and causes his forebearing Tokyo family no end of comic grief.

The character is played by former burlesque comic-turned actor Kiyoshi Atsumi, who has been compared to Chaplin, Jerry Lewis and Red Skelton.

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He died in 1996 shortly after the 48th Tora-san was completed, and has been kept alive onscreen via flashbacks. Balancing the tricky script adjustments is 88-year-old director Yoji Yamada, who has directed and/or written all the 50 titles.

Yamada, a wide-ranging director of critically lauded films,  said: It took me 50 years to make this film. When I think of being 88 years old, I get scared about whether I can shoot films. 

But then Clint Eastwood is still directing.

 

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