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Film / The Rickshaw Man

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The Rickshaw Man is a 1958 film from Japan, directed by Hiroshi Inagaki.

It is set in the town of Kokura on Kyushu, in 1897 and for a couple decades afterward. Matsugoro (Toshiro Mifune) is a rickshaw man, a humble illiterate laborer who is nonetheless boisterous and full of life. One day he sees a small boy, Toshio, who is crying after he fell out of a tree. He whisks the boy home and thence, at the request of Toshio's mother Yoshika (Hideko Takamine), to a doctor. The boy isn't seriously injured but Matsugoro earns the gratitude of beautiful Yoshiko and her husband, Capt. Yoshioka, an officer in the army.

Out of nowhere, Capt. Yoshioka contracts a fever and dies, leaving Yoshiko a widow. The cheerful Matsugoro offers to help Yoshiko raise her boy. Yoshiko gratefully accepts, but as the decades roll by she continues to regard Matsugoro as a faithful servant, unaware of the feelings he has for her.


  • Boisterous Bruiser: Matsugoro is called "Wild Matsu" for his boisterous, hell-raising ways. He tells an amusing story about how he picked a fight with a guy who turned out to be a kendo champion for the local police. When he is denied free entry to a kabuki show (a customary perk for rickshaw men), he buys a ticket, cooks a stinky onion-and-garlic dinner in his box, and starts a brawl when they try to kick him out.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Matsugoro never musters the courage to tell Yoshika how he feels, partly because she's of a much higher social status than he is, and partly because over all those decades she never gives him any kind of signal. When the moment seems to have finally come, he dashes out of her house, saying he'll never see her again.
  • Downer Ending: Matsugoro, unable to confess his love for Yoshika, runs away. He becomes a drunk before he passes out and freezes to death in the snow. The film ends with Yoshika, weeping, realizing she never paid him back for his devotion.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Near the end of the movie Matsugoro is drinking heavily, after having abandoned Yoshika's household.
  • Dying Dream: Matsugoro, drunk, passes out in the snow. Moments from the film pass by in photographic negative, along with closeups of his beloved Yoshika and Toshio. Then the symbolic spinning wheel stops, signaling his death.
  • Flashback Effects: The many flashbacks, like the time Matsugoro remembers a disappointing trip to see his alcoholic father, are all introduced with a typical blurry frame effect.
  • Funny Background Event: Matsugoro, hauling a passenger in his rickshaw, sees Toshio struggling with a tangled kite. He promptly drops his passenger and dashes up to help Toshio with the kite. As Matsugoro and the boy fiddle with the kite in the foreground, we see the passenger in the background, obviously raging, shaking his arms and stamping his feet. At one point he attempts to flip Matsugoro's rickshaw over only to fall over himself.
  • Heel Realization: After finding out that not only did Matsugoro save every note she sent, he also saved up 500 yen in savings bonds for her and Toshio, Yoshika cries, realizing that she never paid Matsugoro back for his devotion.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Yoshika's husband complains of a chill. Then he coughs. The next scene, he's dead.
  • The Lost Lenore: Part of the reason that Yoshika never picks up on Matsugoro's feelings is that she obviously regards him as a servant, but another part is that she never gets over her husband. When her family tries an Arranged Marriage Yoshika declines, saying she's content to remain a widow; she then gazes meaningfully at the portrait of her late husband hanging over the living room.
  • Mood Whiplash: What plays mostly like a family comedy takes a hard right turn into tragic Downer Ending over the last 20 minutes, after Matsugoro leaves Yoshika and gives in to despair and alcoholism.
  • Never Learned to Read: Matsugoro the peasant never went to school at all, and has to have Yoshika read him a flier.
  • No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Toshio grows up to be an annoying twerp. When an admiring girl makes him a kimono, he acts like a dick, saying "Yumiko, I believe a lady should be shy. In other words, reserved."
  • Oblivious to Love: Yoshika never catches on to Matsugoro's feelings, not over 20 years of his eternal devotion. She has no idea what's going on when he stalks away in a state of high emotion at the end.
  • The Plot Reaper: There needs to be a reason for Matsugoro to hang around mother and son, so her hale-and-hearty officer husband catches pneumonia and dies.
  • Snow Means Death: A drunk, despairing Matsugoro staggers out into the snow, collapses, and freezes to death.
  • Time Skip: Time skips are symbolized with shots of spinning wagon wheels, recalling Matsugoro's job. When he dies, the wheel stops spinning.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: How Yoshika and Matsugoro bid goodbye to Toshio as he goes off to college. Yoshika remarks about how she's now alone, clueless as ever about how that statement lands with love-struck Matsugoro.