The Rich Life of Tora-san and His Family

I saw a touching documentary at a market screening in Tokyo Content Showcase: TORA-SAN OF GOTO 五島のトラさん. Director Masaru Oura kept a visual archive of the Tora family over a period of 22 years, documenting the family’s daily life, separation, reunification, marriage, birth and death – How was this big family led by Tora-san’s strict disciplines? How did the family business manage to raise 7 children, and then expand and pass onto the next generation? How did the siblings take the shared responsibility since their childhood? And to a broader extent, how to live with the bounty of nature, in a rural area in the 21st century? I think this documentary has its social values, not only in Japan, but in current China as well: family heritage, young people’s choices, living with nature, etc.

Later, I found out that it had won the Magnolia Award for Best Documentary at the 22nd Shanghai International Television Festival.

This is an interview I did with Mr. Oura via email. Mr. Oura kindly answered in Japanese, and in English. ありがとうございます、大浦さん。

Xu: How did you come to meet this family, out of millions of families in Nagasaki?

Oura-san: When I was 37 years old,  I covered a family moving from Osaka to the Goto Islands and conducting agriculture, Tora-san was the acquaintance of that family.


Xu: Why did you decide to make a documentary about them? What is the message you want to give?

Oura-san: Tora-san’s way of raising children was unique. Tora-san’s idea resonated with his father’s: Children help the family business by working with each other – the value of money and the pleasure of making things can’t be learned in the school. An ordinary household couldn’t practise that way.

But the children did not accept everything his father said. There was also a conflict between parents and children. Joy, sadness, parting, growth, old age … I wanted to take  the family history and landscape that are familiar to any family. What kind of adults would the children develop into with such a strict father? I wanted to see it. I want to convey that I wish Tora-san’s lifestyle to be used as a reference for my family’ s existence and way of parenting. Besides, I also wanted to tell you that we can live a rich life in rural areas.



Xu: You end up following them for 22 years – did you think of giving up? Did this filmmaking experience change your lifestyle during the past two decades?

Oura-san: At first, I did not expect to record such a long time. But after five years, and then ten years, the children grew up while the parents grew older … When capturing that reality, I thought it would be interesting if I could take it to the end. When I asked Tora-san to keep on shooting, I received a reply “You can take it until you die.” However, some of the children were in the way, because some brothers disliked being photographed. Since I was taking a long family history, I had to keep shooting. I then shot with my camera from a long distance. I didn’t go home on holidays or New Year; I just went to Goto to continue shooting. I began the project at 37 and finished it at 59 – 22 years. It was completed as a culmination of my life itself.


Xu: What is the biggest change of the Japanese society during the past 20 years – in your opinion?

Oura-san: Change in values. The concentration of population. There are more people moving to the city such as Tokyo than living in the countryside. Children’s education is changing with the declining birthrate. The number of families who are allowed to attend the cram school is increasing. Fewer children spend time in nature and playing with friends, while more spend time in video games to gain virtual action and knowledge. As a result, reality and virtual can not be distinguished from each other and various incidents are likely to occur. A lack of ethics and sense of justice may be taken into consideration that children kill parents and grandparents and other immediate family. I hope that you will experience real experiences from virtual with the same idea as Tora-san.


Xu: Do you think there would be more people going back to their hometown – to live and start a local business?

Oura-san: The number of people who prefer life in big cities gradually increases, and migrants who wish to live in rural areas are also increasing. The charm of country life is one of the intentions that I made Tora-san of Goto.

大都会の生活を見直す人も徐々に増え、地方での田舎暮らしを希望する移住者も増えて来ている。田舎暮らしの魅力は Tora-san of Goto の制作意図の一つである。

Xu: How many hours have you spent on editing this film?

Oura-san: About 3 months. Because the material for 22 years was enormous.


Xu: How would you imagine Japan in 2038 – 20 years later? Considering its social issues like 少子化 and 高齡化?

Oura-san: With a declining birthrate and a lack of labor, nobody would do hard work. There will be no successor to agriculture and fishing. As a result, food shortages occur. Family ties would be even less close. If a major disaster such as a big earthquake occurs in Tokyo, the economy and distribution will be very disastrous and it may become impossible to live in Tokyo. It seems that people from rural areas can only move back to their hometown. Again the importance and necessity of fishery and agriculture will be reviewed.


Xu: What do your family think of this documentary?

Oura-san: I myself can understand the feelings of being a parent like tora-san as I am the father of three children, but it is better to respect children’s thoughts and directions. And also listen to his wife speak. The values are different, but it is a work that is made for us to think. My children also visited the movie theater and had a close look. My father appreciated my passion as I am a masterpiece that he had created for many years.


Xu: There are so many Japanese scientists getting the Nobel Prize. Could you share what is the best thing Japanese education offer to the children?

Oura-san: People who have basic knowledge such as important things taught from parents and families when they are young, real experiences gained in nature and such will be of great help in the rest of their lives, in addition to school education. As Tora-san says, parents have a great responsibility in rearing a child.


Xu: About the father-children relationship in this documentary: is it typical in Japan? Most of the 7 children really obeyed the father and did what he told them to do. 

Oura-san: Fathers like Tora-san is less typical nowadays in Japan, though it is likely to have been an absolute existence in the past. The number of married couples is increasing, and the husband and wife are equal. I think due to the declining birthrate, there are a lot of fathers who do not scold even if the child does a bad thing or does something carelessly. Tora-san might look like an old Japannese father statue, but I think he was really a child-friendly person.

At the end of this movie, Sebun’s letter shows Tora-san gave strict advice that his children would be reluctant to follow in the future. When both parents are no longer alive and the children have to walk their respective lives. I think that it is gentle parental love that you don’t have to follow your parents’ footsteps. An ordinary father, including me, cannot do it.



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