(Below is a photo of a real rickshaw taken by famous Swiss photographer Werner Bischof.)
(Before you get too interested in the film, I should warn you that no English-subtitled or dubbed version is available in the U.S. But with more and more obscure films being released on DVD, hopefully the day is not far off when it will be.)
In the film, a poor rickshaw driver, Matsugoro (Mifune), called Matsu for short, befriends a rich customer who is taken by Matsugoro’s plain-speaking, affable personality and his optimistic outlook on his own standing in life and on things in general. Matsu is even invited to the rich man’s home, which in those days was unheard of. (When was the last time you invited your taxi driver to dinner?)
Soon, however, the man falls ill and dies. But Matsu remains friends with his widow, Yoshiko, and their son. To the son, Toshio, he’s like a father, attending school events and visiting often to encourage him and make sure he doesn’t grow up feeling abandoned. He gushes praise on Toshio for every accomplishment. (There’s a comical scene where Matsu stops his rickshaw, with a customer on board, to help Toshio fly a kite, while the enraged customer jumps up and down in the distant background.) Yoshiko deeply appreciates everything that Matsu does for her son.
Yoshiko, by the way, is classy, warm, and beautiful. But she can’t forget her late husband, whose picture she prays to daily. And she’s oblivious to the romantic feelings that Matsu eventually develops for her. Can you see where this is going?
Yes it’s corny, but it’s still a good movie. It’s got Toshiro Mifune, in his prime, in an over-the-top performance as fun-loving, hard-fighting, life-loving rickshaw driver who is also tragically resigned to his own fate. What more can you ask for in a film?