Monday, October 31, 2016

A Tale of Samurai Cooking

“Haru has an excellent sense of taste and unsurpassed skill in the kitchen, but her impetuous character leads to her husband asking for a divorce after only a year of marriage. One day, she is approached by Dennai Funaki, a samurai chef from Kaga, to marry his son and heir, Yasunobu.”

“Serving the Lord of Kaga not with the sword, but with the kitchen knife, the Funaki family has been known as “Kitchen Samurai” for generations. However, Yasunobu’s lack of culinary skills has placed the Funaki name in peril. To save her new family and its status as “Kitchen Samurai”, Haru decides to teach her new husband the refined art of Kaga cuisine from her point of view. Inspired by a true story.”

(Text from the Cinémathèque website)

WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

Haru is a maid for Lady Otei. She is now orphaned but she grew up in her parents' restaurant and is an excellent cook. The Lady Otei arranged her marriage but her spirited and rebellious character displeased the husband and she was sent back. During a banquet she succeeds to identify all the ingredients in a mystery dish, thus impressing the Maeda family head's Master chef, Funaki Den'nai. So much that he asked her to marry his second son, Yasunobu. His first son was supposed to take over his position of Master samurai chef but he died of a disease and now the responsibility fall on Yasunobu who would rather practice fencing than cuisine in order to be a “real” samurai. The father hopes that Haru could helps Yasunobu become more passionate toward his new job and improve his skills. She refuses at first, but with the Master Chef insistance she finally accepts the challenge and eventually finds her way into the samurai heart.

It is primarily a romantic story and the dramatic tone is provided by a backdrop of political power plays inside the Kaga clan. It's a little complex to detail but, in a nutshell, a high-ranking (and powerful) Kaga samurai, Denzo Otsuki (the lover of Lady Otei), wanted to do fiscal reforms, but is opposed by a faction in the clan who put him under arrest. In revenge, his supporters (including Sadanoshin Imai, Yasunobu's fencing instructor and friend) attempt to kill the Lord. There was also a power play between the Maeda family (head of the Kaga clan, in Kanazawa, Ishiwaka prefecture) and the Tokugawa clan (both being the top two richest clans). Those events (the so-called "Kaga Disturbance") and characters are historical — even the Master chef, Funaki Den'nai, who wrote books about Kaga's cuisine. Strangely, the Japanese political situation was not dissimilar to Louis XIV court, where the king was trying to keep the nobility busy at court with banquets and inner struggles in order to prevent them plotting against him.

Japanese drama often have a strong comedic undertone (which can annoy western audience who is not used to such a mix). In this case, the comedic aspect is more subdued. The whole set up of banquets and qualifying cooking competitions for a prominent position on the domain's kitchen reminded me of the Japanese TV cooking show Iron Chef. And, surprise!, the family head, Naomi Maeda — who is never seen before the end, is played by none other than the Iron Chef's show host Takeshi Kaga! Coincidence? I don't think so.

A funny anecdote: a friend of my wife, who's not used to Japanese movies and culture, found the samurai's hairdo rather ugly. It made me realized that I was so used to it that I never wondered why samurai wore such a strange hairdo. This traditional topknot style was called Chonmage and was not only the symbol of the samurai status (hence cutting the hair in defeat or disgrace) but was also used “to hold a samurai helmet steady atop the head in battle”. Fascinating!

A Tale of Samurai Cooking is an interesting jidai-geki movie that is somewhat similar to Abacus & Sword, where the protagonist is a samurai accountant. It teaches us about Japanese history (Edo period) and shows us plenty of beautiful landscapes and local dishes while entertaining us with a very good love story. It's worth watching but, unfortunately, it is not available in DVD here (although there's a R2 Dvd with english subtitles).

A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story (武士の献立 / Bushi no kondate / lit. “Warrior's Menu”). Japan, 2013, 121 min.; Dir.: Yûzô Asahara; Ass. Dir.: Masanori Inoue; Scr.: Michio Kashiwada, Yukiko Yamamuro, Yuzo Asahara (based on the novel by Naoki Oishi); Phot.: Yukihiro Okimura; Music: Tarô Iwashiro; Prod.: Yoshio Ishizuka, Hideaki Miyoshi; Cast: Aya UETO, Kengo KÔRA, Kimiko YO, Toshiyuki NISHIDA, Riko Narumi, Tasuku Emoto, Kenta Hamano, Hana Ebise, Ayane Ômori, Toshiki Ayata.

Film screened at the 33rd Japanese Film Festival of Montreal on October 27th, 2016 (Cinémathèque Québécoise, 19h00 – the small theatre was filled to the last seat). This free event is organized each year by the Japan Foundation (Toronto) and the Consulate General of Japan.

For more information you can visit the following websites:

A Tale of Samurai Cooking © 2016 「A Tale of Samurai Cooking」movie. All Rights Reserved.

The trailer is avaialble on Youtube:

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