We could simply say that each food-related films in Japan are imbued with symbolism for good luck for the year to come relating to health, longevity, wealth, happiness, and harvest. But, that would be an incomplete statement at least. Food, in fact, symbolizes practically every layer of society in Japan, social statuses, tradition, modernity, attitudes, relationships and others, inside-out, from core to surface, embracing the both visual and sound senses along the taste.
It wouldn't be untrue if said that THE DISH is never just A DISH in Japanese cinema.
SWEET BEAN (2015) Director: Naomi Kawase
The collaboration of the Japanese documentary queen Naomi Kawase and the Kirin Kiki led to another very convincing piece about transcending conditions in aging Japanese society and critical reflections on the decisions in the past.
Burdened with a heavy and ever-increasing debt, a dorayaki baker hires a kind aging woman, after tasting her delicious surprise. Little by little, she unravels her beautiful inner world. Could she be holding the secret to his success?
TAMPOPO (1985) Director: Juzo Itami
You can't put this one into any category, yet, calling it "Japanese Ramen Western" would take you just that far. Film is packed with elements of cross-cultural behaviors (for example Japanese soundless pasta consuming vs Westerners loud noodle tasting), jidaigeki development (seven samurai style teaming up), and implementing food as avatar of sexual taste consumption.
Eventually, final scene of collective total ramen tasting concludes: well done taste is recognizable regardless its background, whether it is about food, design, people or life.
SYNOPSIS A truck driver stops at a small family-run noodle shop and decides to help its fledgling business. The story is intertwined with various vignettes about the relationship of love and food.
KAMOME DINER (2006) Director: Naoko Ogigami
Where are we welcome? On a quiet street in Helsinki, Sachie has opened a diner featuring rice balls. For a month she has no customers. Then, in short order, she has her first customer, meets Midori, a gangly Japanese tourist, and invites her to stay with her, and meets Masako, a formal and ethereal middle-aged woman whose luggage has gone missing. The three women work in the diner, interact, and serve customers. A somewhat brusque man teaches Sachie to make delicious coffee, then he returns under other circumstances. Three neighborhood women inspect the empty diner every day; will anything bring them inside? We learn why Sachie serves rice balls; but why Finland?
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (2011) Director: David Gelb
Besides many valuable messages and authenticity of the topic, a big credit goes to the director's approach which rendered cultural elements through Jiro's life story globally understandable yet locally identifiable.
A documentary on 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, his renowned Tokyo restaurant, and his relationship with his son and eventual heir, Yoshikazu.
EVERY DAY A GOOD DAY (2018) Director: Tatsushi Omori
If you want to bring an in-depth context & a layer of wisdom to the story about a simple cup of tea, you can't think of bringing in a better character than Kirin Kiki (again).
Such a long-lasting tradition as the tea ceremony is proven to be timeless regarding global development. Pretty much how outsiders perceive the combination of tradition and modernity of Japan, this film compares the psychological status of one that changes through the generations or stays the same.
SYNOPSIS Noriko is a university student. By her mother's recommendation, Noriko begins attending a Japanese tea ceremony near her house with her cousin Michiko. There, Noriko learns from Teacher Takeda. Noriko now has the Japanese tea ceremony in her life and it's there for her during moments when she is sad or happy.
MIDNIGHT DINER (2014) Director: Joji Matsuoka
"If you thought Midnight Diner was going to be another food porn movie, this time about the delicacies and delights of izakayas (Japanese bars), you would be about 10% correct. While they do manage to make a fried egg look quite sexy, the food only acts as the glue that holds the pieces of the film together. This is mainly a story about people from different walks of life whose lives are able to intersect thanks to the familiar setting of the small diner." by Tyler Colosimo
A cook opens a restaurant that only serves from midnight till dawn. One day, he discovers an obituary urn. Follow the stories of his regulars tangled around this urn.
OKURIBITO (2008) Director: Yojiro Takita
Lets get one thing straight, this is NOT a food movie by any sense. However! Here, food is a scrumptious insistence on life amid the inescapable reality of death; it represents that curious admixture LifeDeath.
SYNOPSIS A newly unemployed cellist takes a job preparing the dead for funerals.
RICE BALL (2020, Short) Director: Yusuke Oishi
From JSFF2020 selection, very touching minimalistic concept exposing taste, love and life inthe simplest dish ever made.
Written and directed by Yusuke Oishi, “Rice Ball” is a short and intense 15-min exploration of grief through the simple act of eating one of the simplest homemade snacks of Japanese culture: onigiri.