Friday, July 25, 2014

Mourning recipe

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.

“When Ryohei's wife, Otomi, suddenly passes away, Ryohei is deeply depressed, without the strength to live. Two weeks after her death, a woman visits Ryohei and gives him a recipe book which was left by Otomi, a "recipe book" for a happy life. Meanwhile, Ryohei's daughter Yuriko comes to visit him. Yuriko's own marriage is about to end in divorce and she will have use for Otomi's "recipe book".” (Text from the Festival's program)

This movie is the second adaptation of Yuki Ibuki's book of the same title. It was her second novel (published in february 2010, it has unfortunately not been translated into english yet) and, as it quickly became a bestseller, it was first adapted into a four-episode television drama which aired on NHK between February 15 and March 8, 2011.

The important cultural element behind the story is that, in Japanese Buddhism (and Mahayana Buddhism in general), after the funeral (which occurs three or seven days after death) there's another important ceremony held after seven weeks, on the 49th day. It seems that mourning is a slow process in Japan: it starts with preparing the body, changing the deceased's name, holding a wake, then there's the funeral and the cremation, followed by weekly praying and offering. Little by little, as it performs a kind of “karmic introspection”, the deceased's spirit is moving away from the physical world until it is completely free from it. Then it achieves awakening (or enlightenment), which is a profound understanding of reality. The 49th day ceremony has for purpose to support the deceased in this transition into a new life and to celebrate it. Interestingly, this slow process also allows to mourners to get used to their loved one's departure and this is this specific aspect that is the subject of the movie.

When Ryohei's wife died, he was devastated. However, Otomi knew that her passing would deeply affect her family, particularly her husband, so she prepared an illustrated guide book for them. The handwritten recipe book is proposing activities (like cooking, cleaning and the basics of house keeping) for every day of the seven weeks of mourning, culminating with a big party for the family and friends! Otomi had been volunteering at the “Ribbon House”, a rehabilitation center for teenagers with difficulties, where she was teaching cooking and housework. She asked one of her students, Imoto “Imo” Sachie (a tanned blond with lots of make-up and weird clothing), to bring the book to her family. She does more than that as she stays to help, along with her Japanese-Brazilian friend Harumi (Haru aka Carlos Yabe).

At the same time, Ryohei's daughter Yuriko (her mother died when she was a kid and Otomi was her step-mother) is depressed: she's childless and her fertility treatment failed, she has to take care of her mother-in-law and she discovers that her husband is having an affair! She decides to leave her husband and go back home to help her father. She finds him already in good company. So, altogether with Imo and Haru, despite many difficulties, she's helping her father going through the mourning recipes—which reveals being beneficial for everybody.

The story is a little complex to tell in more details than that, but it was a superb feel-good movie (a family drama with humour). The storytelling was beautiful, the acting excellent, it makes you think about how to live your life and, on top of it, it was quite entertaining. A good Japanese movie will always make you laugh or cry, and I did both so that makes Mourning Recipe an excellent movie. It was a popular screening since the theatre was packed (although it was a terribly tiny room with a capacity around one-hundred-fifteen, with no central alley and a floor with minimal angle, so the viewing experience was not optimal). It was the best movie I had seen so far at the festival last year. It is really worth seeing (unfortunately it seems to be available on dvd only in Japanese version).

Shijuukunichi no Reshipi ( 四十九日のレシピ / lit. “Recipe of 49 Days” / Mourning Recipe ): Japan, 2013, 130 min.; Dir.: Yuki Tanada; Scr.: Hisako Kurosawa (based on a novel by Yuki Ibuki); Phot.: Ryuto Kondo; Ed.: Ryuji Miyajima; Mus.: Yoshikazu Suo; Cast: Renji Ishibashi, Masaki Okada, Fumi Nikaidô, Hiromi Nagasaku, Taizo Harada; Distrib.: Gaga Corp. Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival August 28th, 2013 (Cinema Quartier Latin 11, 16h30) as part of the “Focus on World Cinema” segment.
For more information you can visit the following websites:

Mourning Recipe © 2013 "Mourning Recipe" Film Partners

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