The Lesson Learned in A Tale of Samurai Cooking, A Movie Review

No foodie or historian should miss out in learning about the history of Japanese cooking in Bushi No Kondate (A Tale Of Samurai Cooking A True Love Story). Despite it being deceptive film set during the early part of the Edo period (1603-1867) of Japan, the tale being presented is more than just about the budding romance that’s being stirred up.

The political upheaval that’s happening in the Kaga Domain — a huge tract of land owned by a Shogun — is the social climate that this film’s many characters have to struggle to eke out their life in. The civil war that occurred between two Shogun brothers, and its subsequent influence upon the people who live in this region was a spark to the Kaga Disturbance that this movie chronicles.

But for the real story that’s being cooked up, divorcee Haru (Aya Ueto) gets a second chance at getting a happy life. Back then, women had a harder time in restoring their honour especially if they were separated/disowned by their husband. Haru is content at being a maid, in the service for others. But when her culinary genius is discovered by head chef to the warlord Maeda, maybe she’s not cut out to do what this patriarch of the Funaki family hopes to restore — to turn his surviving son, Yasunobu (Kengo Kora), into a chef. He’s no cook; he favours the blade to fight with than to use in the kitchen. He had hoped that responsibility would fall upon his older brother, but fate has other plans for him.

Some viewers may well wonder which one of the two is the better story element to watch. Is it the romance that’s slowly developing between Haru and Yasunobu or is it the revolution that’s going on. Some knowledge of what went on during this time in Japanese history is required to appreciate the latter. But for curiousity seekers wanting a peek at the feudal world of Japan, this film is very respectable in its presentation of what life was like back then.

The story is simple and sublime. Haru takes up the challenge of teaching Yasunobu the skills needed to be an exceptional chef. Although he is reluctant, the feelings he develops for her is like a simmering stew. Despite a rather long narrative (120mins), the climax is quite exquisite. The tale comes to head with a challenge to the political regime going on and a realization of what this couple’s purpose in life is.

Along the way, there are little discourses in how to cook the Funaki way. Their recipes are heralded as exceptionally, and it all begins with knowing how to wash rice properly. The taste of raw fish depends on how well the cut is made. Make it rough, and the surface will hold more sauce when dipped in soy sauce.  Make it smooth, and the textures can be savoured upon the diner’s tongue. These little details make this film an exciting watch. Just like with any other films that examines the fine art of cooking, it’s all in how to make use of regional ingredients to help bring out the flavour than to find the exotic.

In the food that’s spotlighted, all the dishes presented are said to be authentic to the period. In the recipes that were developed, the they have become a guide for chefs to come even to this day. That’s amazing, and for a few hungry viewers, they may really want to consider where they want to go to find authentic Japanese cuisine. Not all Japanese restaurants can make the dishes right. To find the right balance of ingredients is important.

In this film’s case, the juggling act is in how to mix up historical facts with the right fictional elements to make watching this film not feel long. Unfortunately, a bit of that can be felt, but once when the cooking lessons begin, time goes by rather fast!

3½ Blokes out of 5

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