Entertainment

Forget Jiro! Here, Other Japanese Food Flicks You Need to Watch Now

August 19, 2015

There’s no denying that Japanese food is clearly the darling of the metro. A celebrated local food blogger once said that if she could eat only one kind of cuisine for life, it would be Japanese: ramen on Mondays, sushi on Tuesdays, teppanyaki on Wednesdays, and so on. Clearly, one big reason why Japanese cuisine is so popular is because it’s almost impossible to get sick of it. There are simply so many different iterations that you can try and enjoy, and we haven’t even gotten around to talking about fusion cuisine yet.

While cravings for Japanese food can easily creep up on you after thumbing through a food porn-laden Instagram feed or on your favorite food site (ahem, ahem), feasting your eyes on a well-made film is undoubtedly one of the best ways to whet your appetite for a Japanese food binge. Thus, apart from the renowned Jiro Dreams of Sushi (which was previously reviewed here and is sure to bring on wet dreams of the raw sushi delicacy), here are four lesser-known food flicks that will have you rushing over to the nearest Japanese joint:

1. Pâtisserie Coin de Rue (2011)

A young amateur baker named Natsume travels to Tokyo to find her boyfriend and presumed fiancée. She ends up at Pâtisserie Coin de Rue, a hip pastry shop where he had been working as an apprentice, only to find out that her fiancée had long since moved on, both personally and professionally. Heartbroken, Natsume stubbornly insists on apprenticing at Pâtisserie Coin de Rue. She then undergoes a coming-of-age journey that includes having to eat mounds of botched madeleines and recalling the legendary pâtissier Tomaru out of his self-imposed retirement.

The Japanese have long had an affinity for French food and culture and anyone who has ever visited a Japanese cake shop will see evidence of this. Pâtisserie Coin de Rue is rife with vibrant images of breathtaking pastries, as well as the lengths that pastry chefs go through to make them. The plot also unfolds in ways that are by turns hilarious and tragic (such as Tomaru’s reason for retiring from his craft), perhaps as a foil to the lacquered sweetness of all the pastries in the background.

Movie Highlights:

  • The opening scenes are an utter delight for the eyes: beautiful high-definition shots of butter being melted down with milk as the base for choux pastry, trays of brown-topped golden cream puff orbs still steaming from the oven, and pastry knives gently coaxing elaborate curls from a sheet of chocolate.
  • Then there’s the culminating stage of a fancy dinner, where Natsume and her colleague perform some well-timed maneuvers to serve up an impressive meringue flambé.

This Will Have You Hankering For:

A slice of strawberry shortcake that’s as delicate, light, and fluffy as only a Japanese bakery could make it. Either that, or some Japanese cheesecake.

2. The God of Ramen (2013)

This documentary, which was allegedly shot over seven years, closely follows the life of Kazuo Yamagishi, an old ramen master who is usually credited with inventing ramen tsukemen. Yamagishi has owned and operated a tiny ramshackle ramen shop called Taishoken for the better part of the past half-century. Despite the mushrooming of many ramen shops, Taishoken is shown to have quite a loyal following among the locals. The documentary shows that people start lining up three hours before the shop opens and that the 16-seater eatery is always full, with patrons slurping up bowls of Yamagishi’s ramen as they sit elbow to elbow in the cramped space.

God of Ramen

There is quite a bittersweet feel to this documentary as Yamagishi comes to grips with both an enduring sadness for his late wife from two decades back and his own impending mortality. It’s hard not to like Yamagishi. He looks like a plump and cheerful grandfather, treats his numerous young apprentices like family (even when a lot of them have set up shops that profit from the Taishoken name), and still takes an active part in making the 200 bowls of ramen that his shop churns out each day. The fact that the guy continues to smile through intense physical and emotional pain is bound to tug at your heartstrings, especially since he passed away earlier this year from health problems that were hinted at in the film. More than just a documentary about mastering the ramen craft, The God of Ramen is also about a man’s experiences of love, loss, and family, something that is indicated by the literal translation of the original Japanese title (Ramen Yori Taisetsu na Mono): something that is more important than ramen.

Movie Highlights:

  • Unlike a lot of films that revolve around food, there are no HD shots in The God of Ramen, nor are there any carefully choreographed plating or cooking techniques. The cinematography is quite raw and unpretentious. You see scenes where ladles of broth are hurriedly splashed onto waiting bowls with soy sauce at the bottom, complete with noodle strands hanging off the rims as well as shots of bare, pudgy hands flinging rough slices of chashu atop the ramen.
  • There’s this particularly poignant scene where Yamagishi ducks out for a bit to flex his fingers, as though to wheedle some of their rapidly-deteriorating dexterity back into them. The camera doesn’t show you his face, but you can easily imagine the silent anguish that must be flitting across his features.

This Will Have You Hankering For:

A big, piping hot bowl of chashu ramen, which would undoubtedly be comforting as some parts of the documentary may cause you to tear up a bit.

3. A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story (2013)

Set in feudal Japan, A Tale of Samurai Cooking  is rather like a cross between Samurai X and Cooking Master Boy. It focuses on a part of the warrior class who put aside their swords to work for their masters in the kitchens. These men were fondly mocked as the “kitchen samurai,” and often held hereditary posts in the imperial kitchens.

A Tale of Samurai Cooking

At one of the court banquets, a renowned kitchen samurai named Dennai Funaki serves up a mock crane dish that becomes an instant hit among those in attendance. Inspired by the dish, the presiding shogun challenges his guests to figure out what the mystery meat is. Many of the illustrious guests take a shot at guessing the secret ingredient but it is Haru, the young lady-in-waiting to the shogun’s mistress, who is able to provide the correct answer. Impressed by the Haru’s palate (and by her cooking skills), Dennai Funaki seeks her out as a bride for his son and successor in the hopes that she could sway his indifference and ineptitude. Haru reluctantly marries Dennai’s son Yasunobu, and together they go through plenty of challenges and experiences that leave them both irrevocably changed by the end of the film.

Movie Highlights:

  • The kitchen face-off between Haru and Yasunobu. Miffed at her husband’s dismissive attitude towards the culinary arts, Haru offers him a wager. If he can clean and fillet a fresh fish better than she can, he can divorce her. If he fails, he’ll have to take cooking lessons from her. Despite Yasunobu’s being a former samurai, Haru easily bests him by presenting a plate of perfect sashimi slices. An engaging montage of Yasunobu learning basic kitchen skills (spearing fish on sticks for grilling, washing rice, and making dough out of rice flour) then follows.
  • The grand banquet for the new shogun at the end is also testament to how effective Haru’s cooking lessons are. As one of the head cooks, Yasunobu presides over a menu that includes some of the finest Kaga cuisine dishes: koi carp sashimi, succulent abalone, and grilled sea bream.

This Will Have You Hankering For:

A bento box stuffed with grilled seafood like gindara (cod), fresh vegetables, freshly-cooked rice, and a bowl of miso soup.

4. Washoku: Beyond Sushi (2015)

Back when I was a wee girl at my seventh birthday party, I ordered my favorite California maki rolls for me and my friends. Looking back, that wasn’t the best decision since most of my guests had never heard of the stuff and they hated it. These days, however, California maki rolls are one of the most cliché menu items. Heck, they’re even being served at restaurants that are as Japanese as that Dragonball movie where Jamie Chung played Chi-Chi. Washoku: Beyond Sushi is a documentary that explores what exactly happened in the interim (i.e., How Japanese food became so popular).

Washoku

As its title suggests, this beautifully-shot documentary focuses on Washoku, a term that encompasses Japan’s traditional dietary culture. However, a big emphasis is also placed on how the Japanese craze took hold in the US and on the men and women who were responsible for bringing this about. Interspersed between delectable close-up shots of translucent white-fleshed tai sashimi, pale golden tempura, and steaming pots of nabe are interviews with Nobu Matsuhisa, Joel Robuchon, and other notables in the culinary industry.

Movie Highlights:

  • One of the most memorable interviews in the film was Noritoshi Kanai’s. The 90 year-old importer is traditionally credited with being the first to import Japanese ingredients into the West and consequently for the sushi trend that followed. One interesting takeaway from the film is how Japanese food seems to be the only cuisine that is built on the principles of umami, so much so that there is no exact English word for this unique taste.
  • The wicked slow-motion shots of golden takoyaki batter being swirled into golf ball-sized chunks and of a female diner gracefully maneuvering a piece of nigiri sushi into her mouth can also compel anyone to wipe drool off their chin.

This Will Have You Hankering For:

The whole darn menu at your favorite Japanese restaurant.

The Japanese have a saying that goes, “We eat first with the eyes.” If that is indeed true, then any of the films above are a worthy amuse bouche to the feasts that they showcase.

What’s your favorite Japanese food flick? Which of the films above are you most excited to watch? Tell us with a comment below!

Serna Estrella SEE AUTHOR Serna Estrella

Serna is a slim piggy who heartily believes that salads are not real food and that desserts (fruit salad not included) should have their own food group. When she's not terrorizing people with her Grammar Nazi tendencies, she likes to hunt for the perfect afternoon tea spot that lets her pretend she's still in the age of Austen (albeit with electricity and better dental care).

13 comments in this post SHOW

13 responses to “Forget Jiro! Here, Other Japanese Food Flicks You Need to Watch Now”

  1. lorraine says:

    Looks like you’ve been to this year’s Eiga Sai 🙂

  2. Jc says:

    Where to download?:))

  3. secretwalangclue says:

    make a post on movies about food, even the bad ones =P

  4. jesse says:

    I dunno if it’s just me but as a foodie and someone who definitely respects the profession i think the title is a little disrespectful to Jiro. I’m sure it wasn’t meant to disrespect Chef Jiro but i’m pretty sure an established website such as this could’ve thought of a better title to this article. The reason why Jiro has gotten so popular, successful, and unforgettable is because of all the hard work that he has put in to this day, which is why the movie about his life and work has become so popular.

    • Volts Sanchez says:

      Could be just me, but it seems to be more directed towards the Jiro movie than the Jiro person. The content seems to bear this assumption out (but YMMV, of course).

      • jesse says:

        I knew someone was gonna comment something like this as a reply to what i had to say haha! I don’t know but to me the movie about Jiro is Jiro, who would make a documentary or movie about your life if you didn’t work super hard and end up garnering so much attention? Then for someone to just say you could forget the movie for some other just doesn’t seem totally right. 🙂

        • Volts Sanchez says:

          I see your point, but I do believe that the movie and the man can (and should) be taken separately. A bad movie about Jiro, for example, would in no way diminish my respect for him and his dedication to his craft.

          I see this “keeping-things-separate” viewpoint as essential, given that there is so much that is left in the hands of the filmmaker (who can choose to highlight certain points and diminish or completely ignore others, just like the issue of Straight Outta Compton and Dr. Dre).

          On a side note, I believe that there are quite a few people who (due to lack of exposure, most likely) can mention only Jiro Dreams of Sushi when asked to name a legit Japanese food movie. At least, most of my non-food crazy friends are that way.

  5. Name lol says:

    TAMPOPO!

  6. Guest says:

    These are all from this year’s Eiga Sai. Wish the article weren’t limited to just these titles. 🙁

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