8 Japanese Films for Foodies
It's #ultimatefoodporn with these movies all about Japanese cuisine
If you’re a human being who delights in food, whether its preparing it, cooking it or eating it, here are eight of our food writer Anisa Kazemi's favorite Japanese films to help inspire your inner foodie.
Recently remastered in 4K resolution, 1985’s Tampopo tells the story of a band of ramen ronin who mentor a widowed restaurateur on her quest for the perfect soup recipe. Comic relief comes from the erotic exploits of a yakuza food addict. So, you name it, Tampopo has it: food (obviously), drama, violence, sex, inspiration and (unfortunately) a couple of unethical scenes. To give you an idea, when I watched it at the theater in Nashville, Tennessee, an offended individual actually got up and walked out.
2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
You don’t have to be a Japanophile or a sushi fanatic to fall in love with this documentary. An open heart is all you need. An empty stomach won’t hurt either. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the tale of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, the oldest chef to earn three Michelin stars and regarded by many as the world’s greatest sushi master. Bringing forward strong aspects of Japanese culture, this documentary is essentially the tale of the pursuit of perfection and its cost, while featuring saliva-inducing, gorgeous close-ups of steamed rice and super fresh sashimi.
3. An (“Sweet Bean,” 2016)
Have you tried a dorayaki (sweet bean-filled pancake) yet? If not, watching An will make you want to. Sweet bean-filled anything may or may not be yours truly’s guilty pleasure! This is the touching story of an uncommon friendship between a lonely male confectioner, a 76 year-old-woman and a high school girl. It is (dare I say it) a sweet and simple story told with plenty of heart. Exploring the power of life’s simple joys in relieving burdens, uniting souls and the need to hand down skills from generation to generation, An will definitely leave you moved.
4. Rinco’s Restaurant (2011)
A rather idiosyncratic film centering on Rinco and her dream of opening a restaurant. With strong underlying themes of mother-daughter relationships, the film begins with a song introducing Rinco, her dream and her family. Having escaped a self-absorbed mother with a promiscuous reputation to live with an ill grandmother, a tragedy and further heartbreaking occurrences cause Rinco’s voice to disappear. No voice and only her grandmother’s prized pot of miso to her name, Rinco is forced to return home to her mother and her spoilt pet pig. Watch for Japan-only quirks, kawaii (cute) animations and a big pinch of magic.
5. Patisserie Coin de Rue (2011)
If your self-restraint has kept you from licking the screen so far, this film will break it. Trust me. Patisserie Coin de Rue is a nightmare for those with a sweet tooth, taking food porn to a whole new level. Seriously, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for a pastry or two after finishing it. A charming film, it is the story of determined, yet often brash, Natsume who leaves her hometown of Kagoshima for Tokyo in order to retrieve her boyfriend (who moved there for a job at the reputable Coin de Rue Patisserie.) One event leads to another and Natsume also begins training as a pastry chef. The themes of tough love, hard work and perseverance lead to a honey-glazed and deliciously satisfying conclusion.
6. Little Forest Summer/Autumn (2014)
This one is close to my heart because its scenes of Japanese peaks, rivers and fruit trees remind me of my previous home in Okayama’s northern mountains. Little Forest is a true work of art that beautifully captures the countryside and the day-to-day life of its locals. It also features easy-to-follow recipes and lots of takeaway wisdom. These include rice growing, jam making, duck slaughtering, canned cherry tomatoes, homemade Nutella and amazake (also featured on my DYKWTI column). Yet, it’s not a cooking show in any sense nor is it a full-blown drama either. Personally, I have never seen anything like it.
7. The Chef of South Polar (2009)
The problem with this one is, if you’re not in Japan and you see it, you won’t be able to genuinely satisfy your fresh sashimi cravings thereafter. Alongside Tampopo, The Chef of South Polar is more on the “masculine” spectrum of the movies on this list. The film follows the misadventures of seven Japanese men holed up at Dome Fuji research station in the Antarctic for 400 days. Nishimura, a real-life polar-chef whose actual experiences and book inspired this film, is the hero here. His mission: to serve as head chef at Dome Fuji. A delicious concoction of hard-work, humor and homesickness, The Chef of South Polar is a top-notch visual feast. My favorite scene is when the station runs out of ramen!
8. Kamome Diner (2006)
Kamome Diner is an alternative film set in Finland. Of all the films mentioned, I think it has the most memorable characters. Much like Tampopo, it caters to all audiences. There is drama, there is sadness, there is love and there is humor. It’s the story of 38-year-old Sachie and her recently opened Japanese diner in Helsinki. To begin with the diner has no customers but as the story unfolds and the cast quadruples, the Kamome Diner becomes a local favorite. If your soul is in need of some gladdening, the rhythmic hand movements of its onigiri-making will do the trick.