The longest running Japanese comedy series that you've never heard of

Although largely unknown in the west, Otoko wa Tsurai yo (男はつらいよ, "It's tough being a man" but commonly referred to as Tora-san) was a hugely popular series of 48 (!) movies that were made in Japan from 1969 to 1995, earning a Guinness Book of Records entry as the longest-running single-actor film series. The main character is a endearingly blundering fool, who makes his meager living as an itinerate street peddler of cheap novelties. Nearly every installment finds the oblivious Tora-san dropping in unexpectedly on his family, causing chaos and hurting everyone's feelings (including his own), and always being "unlucky at love." Just as suddenly, he packs his sample case and slips away…until next time.

There's also a Tora-san museum in Shibamata Tokyo with set recreations and Tora-san festivals with cosplay.

image source: YouTube

A few years ago we found an American market (DVD region 1!) box set of 4 of the Tora-san movies and loved the great slice of life look at Showa era Japan. The extra features and audio commentary was essential to understand the many cultural references, the kooky gags and slang, and the background of the character. We wanted to see more! Luckily we have Scarecrow Video nearby us in Seattle with their huge foreign film collection for rent. Many of the Japanese market DVDs had English subtitles—yea! We used an old DVD player–equipped Powerbook to play the region 2 discs.

Good luck finding that American box-set. Last time I looked on Amazon it was over $250 from a few sellers but Netflix was offering all four excellent region 1 DVDs on their rental service.