A Chinese Singaporean chef, formerly working in Tokyo, finds himself in Okinawa begging a disgruntled old chef to teach him traditional Okinawan food. A top Japanese food critic finds ...
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A Chinese Singaporean chef, formerly working in Tokyo, finds himself in Okinawa begging a disgruntled old chef to teach him traditional Okinawan food. A top Japanese food critic finds herself in Singapore on an eye opening discovery of Southeast Asian cuisine. In reality both are looking for each other after an emotional breakup years ago. Emotionally crippled by their breakup he searches her home-town for her but discovers instead the art of traditional Okinawan food. Through it he learns the incredible balance of two cultures: Chinese and Japanese - a balance they never had in their relationship. When she suddenly appears in Okinawa looking to find closure he cooks and serves her their final meal. Through it she discovers what she had been yearning for all these years.
When I see and feel love oozing out of every frame, my critic's hat completely disappears and I am able to meet the movie halfway. Jimami Tofu is that movie for me this year.
I have heard some nice things about Jimami Tofu last year, but I made the mistake of watching another locally made foodie movie called Ramen Teh, which left a bad taste in my mouth and I thought one local foodie movie a year is enough. It was by pure chance that I discovered a single screening at the cinema on a Wednesday evening and my wifey was on leave. The stars were aligned and off we went.
One of the things I love when it comes to watching movies or going to concerts is when I get a chance to show my appreciation for the artistes' efforts face to face. Christian Lee (director) and Jason Chan (lead actor) were there manning a table selling t-shirts, soundtracks, tote bags and souvenir screenplays of their movie. I had a nice chat with them and they seemed the nicest dudes ever with a passion for filmmaking.
Prior before the movie began and I must say it was quite a good crowd, the filmmakers gave a short talk with regards to the genesis of the project. They were actually in Okinawa to shoot a travelogue documentary, but fell in love with everything Okinawan. One thing led to another and they decided a movie would best showcase the unique history, culture and cuisine of the land. The two of them then took on all the major tasks of filmmaking - directing, editing, producing, writing, acting, sound, cinematography and even composing the score for the movie. How's that for passion?
There is a scene in the movie of Yuki, the food critic, about to enter a restaurant and the owner lambast her for destroying his reputation by writing an atrocious food review of his old restaurant. I think herein lies one of the responsibilities of a movie critic: how do we draw the line between honesty and curry-flavouring? Can we be brutally honest without sacrificing our integrity? Compassion is the key, and it is also the key to so many things in life.
I can probably give you a wall of words on what the movie failed to do, like how it should have ended two scenes ago, how a sub-plot can be completely excised without sacrificing the movie, how some characters' motivations are not defined clearly and so on. However, deep down in my heart, I felt the movie erred on the filmmakers' efforts to do too much, by that I mean showcasing the languid lifestyle of the people and the humble cuisine of Okinawa. Their passion was contagious as I find myself being immersed in the beautiful land of Okinawa.
There is a beautiful scene late in the movie which detailed what the old chef did for a young couple on their first date and friends who were mourning at a funeral wake in the midst of a typhoon; that for me, was one of the strongest heartbeats of the movie and depicts the power of what good food can wield. That scene managed to make my wifey tear up. A few evenings ago, we saw Taiwan's number one tearjerker More Than Blue and it couldn't even conjure a single tear out of her. It goes to show how she can spot emotionally manipulative tricks from a mile away, and here the sincerity of that scene rings true. Her tears were earned.
Great films that feature food like The Lunchbox (2013) and Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011), treat food like metaphors to weave stories about the human condition, while Jimami Tofu uses food as a metaphor for familial love and bridging relationships. It may be an over-used metaphor, but the sincerity is palpable. Here, food is likened to a symphony with every element coming together at the right moment to bring forth an explosion of memories. And as in all good foodie movies, don't go in with an empty stomach.
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