Based on a novel by Hiroshi Muneta, the story is semi-based on Muneta's own war time, and post war experience. Story is told like recollection of events by Muneta, and voice of Muneta performed by Hiroyuki Nagato narrates the events.
This was a breakthrough movie for its star Kiyoshi Atsumi, and because of his stellar performance, a plan to make a movie series featuring him as another illiterate but adorable character was planned. This became the Otoko wa Tsurai yo series that holds Guness world record as the movie series with most number of episodes.
The story is written from an insider's view who went through the boot camp of imperial Japanese army, and his post war experience.
In the winter of 1931 Hiroshi Munemoto (Hiroyuki Nagato) meets Shosuke Yamada (Kiyoshi Atsumi) who's an uneducated but innocent recruit. Yamada confesses to Munemoto that in this day and age of depression, army life that provides three meals a day and a place to sleep is like heaven. As a fresh recruit, Munemoto, and Yamada receives the customary hazing from the drill instructor Hara (Akira Nishimura). Their first year is up, and the following year, Yamada becomes the drill instructor, where he hazes the new recruits. Yamada's superior officer Horie (Yoshi Kato) feels pity for Yamada who's illiterate, and assigns an ex-school teacher Kakiuchi (Kanbi Fujiyama) to teach him how to read. After a while, Yamada improves to a point where he can read comic books. After the second year, his obligatory military training behind him, Yamada is about to be released. Horie finds Yamada a job, and gives him a Japanese formal wear. Horie then sets out to Korea for his new assignment. In 1937 second Sino-Japanese war erupts and Yamada is called back to the war. Hearing that Nanjin has fallen, he thinks that the war is over. Not wanting to leave the army, Yamada starts writing a letter to the emperor requesting that he be allowed to stay in the army. But such actions were considered lacking respect to the emperor, and Munemoto takes the letter away from Yamada. But the war wasn't over, and Yamada hears that his old troop leader Horie died in China. Munemoto writes an biographical account of the war and becomes a successful writer. Yamada and Munemoto experience Japan's defeat at the end of war in China. Munemoto becomes a children's book writer after the war, and one day meets Yamada in Nikko. Yamada is working to scoop out suicide victim's body from a water fall in Nikko . The job brings good money, and Yamada is hoping to marry a woman named Kunie Tejima (Hizuru Takachiho) but Tejima isn't interested. A year after Munemoto moves to Tokyo, Yamada shows up at his door. He tells Munemoto that he's about to marry a widower named Seiko Inoue (Meiko Nakamura) and would like Munemoto to be the witness. Munemoto accepts, and they start preparing for the wedding. One winter morning Munemoto's wife finds an obituary of Yamada on a newspaper. Yamada got run over by a truck after getting drinking with Seiko on a highway. Shocked, they head out to the police station to confirm Yamada's death.
The story has lot of elements that would become the basis of Otoko wa Tsurai yo series. A hardly literate, but a man full of innocence, who never gets the girl is prototypical role for Atsumi as Tota-san.
Due to the immense popularity of this movie, follow on was created the following year with almost an identical cast called "Zoku Haikei Tenno Heika sama", and also title of the 47th episode of Otoko wa Tsurai yo series "Haikei Kuruma Torajiro sama" was taken from this movie.
This is really a good movie and is recommended for viewing if you can find a copy.
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