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Film / Life of a Horse Trader

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Life of a Horse Trader is a 1951 film from Japan directed by Keigo Kimura.

Yone (Toshiro Mifune) is a horse trader who lives in a small village on the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido. He is a rough-and-tumble type who is prone to getting roaring drunk, starting bar brawls, and losing all his money at dice. The only problem is that he has a sickly wife, Haruno, and an infant son, Daihei. Haruno is well aware of her husband's drinking problem. When she dies of TB, she has clutched to her person a small amount of cash, money she has saved to keep her husband fron drinking it away, as well as a note saying "Take care of Daihei."

And so Yone does. He remains a blustering loudmouth, but he cuts down on the drinking and tries to be a good father to Daihei. As the years roll by Daihei grows up to be a shy, scholarly boy, with an intellect that suggests he should aim higher than succeeding his father as a horse trader.

Machiko Kyo plays Yuki, a local geisha who is in love with Yone.


  • Ambiguous Time Period: Daihei listens to a radio and people ride tricycles and bicycles, which suggests the 1920s or 30s. Yet there are no cars and most of the village is illiterate, which should not be the case in 1930s Japan.
  • Answer Cut: The other horse traders bet how many wooden clogs Yone will buy from the shoe salesman. One says two, another says three, and the third says Yone is excessively generous, so he will buy five. The film then cuts to showing Yone walking around with about a dozen pairs of shoes that he has strung over his shoulder on a rope.
  • Bar Brawl: Yone starts one after accusing the weaselly horse traders, apparently correctly, of cheating at dice. There's quite a mood shift when Yone, who's in the middle of pummeling people, is notified that his wife is deathly ill.
  • Big Game: The big horse race at the end. Yone's horse wins—and promptly dies right after crossing the finish line. The prize money allows Yone to send Daihei off to a fancy school.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In Yone's first appearance he is so drunk that he passes out and falls off his horse. His companions pour water on him and manage to get him back on the horse.
  • Fruit Cart: Yone knocks over a fruit stand as he gallops home on horseback, after finding out his wife is deathly ill.
  • Geisha: Actually it's not clear just what Yuki does, but she seems to be a geisha. She's dressed up in a kimono and hangs out at the bar, but she's not a High-Class Call Girl, as shown when a man comes into the bar looking for sex and she scornfully tells him to go to a brothel.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Magohachi is clocking people on the head with beer bottles as they leave during the Bar Brawl. He nearly bashes Yone's skull as well but is able to stop himself.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: Yuki is criticizing Yone about Daihei when he shoves her. Yuki, who is desperately in love with Yone, asks him to hit her, because she likes it.
    Yuki: Strike me in the way I feel refreshed.
  • Jock Dad, Nerd Son: Yone is a Boisterous Bruiser who is also a champion sumo wrestler while his son is quiet and bookish. This causes some tension when it's time to make decisions about Daihei's education.
  • Loan Shark: Roku, the carriage driver, is this, extending loans to Yone and the other illiterate peasants. This propels him to wealth and success.
  • Maybe Ever After: Even though Yone remains Oblivious to Love it seems likely this will happen. Roku decides to turn into The Matchmaker and says he will fix Yone and Yuki up. And as the movie ends and Daihei is speeding away on the train, he pointedly says to his dad that he should go to Yuki for massages now when his back hurts.
  • Never Learned to Read: Neither Yone nor Yuki, as both of them get embarrassed and brush Daihei off when he asks them how to write the Japanese for "father".
  • Oblivious to Love: The amazingly clueless Yone has no idea that Yuki is besotted with him, despite her flirtatious manner. He still doesn't get it when, after he asks her to match him up with someone else, she flies into a rage and kicks him out of the bar.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Yone's buddies are arguing about and fussing over the radio as they try to tune in the big horse race. Finally one of them accidentally drops the radio, and the formerly static-filled signal comes in clear.
  • The Plot Reaper: Yone's wife has to die so he can struggle on as a single dad.
  • Seasonal Baggage: A montage shows the village covered in snow, then shows the snow melting, then shows the village clear of snow with the cherry trees blooming.
  • Time-Passes Montage: A montage shows Yone training the horse to win the big race, juxtaposed with Daihei in school learning lessons.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: An unusual variation on this. Yone is not at the train station, but instead he hops on a horse and gallops off in order to chase the train down in open country, so he can say goodbye to Daihei.