Not bad, but I wanted to like it more than I did.

I love Japanese films.  I also love films about cooking–such as Babette’s Feast, The Big Night and Mostly Martha.  So, I would have thought that a Japanese movie about cooking would be something I’d love.  Well, although A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story is pretty good, I certainly was not in love with it.  It could have been a lot better.

The story is set during the feudal period in Japan–specifically in the 18th century.  During this period, not all the samurai are trained for warfare.  There is a class called the ‘bushi’ who are trained as the greatest chefs in the land to the richest and most powerful lords and even the emperor.  A young woman,  Haru, is a cook for a prominent family.  As the years pass, her cooking skills become somewhat legendary.  One day, a famous bushi chef tastes her food and is captivated.  He MUST convince Haru to marry his son, Yosunobu!
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It seems that the chef’s oldest son recently died unexpectedly.  So, Yosunobu must give up his dreams of being a warrior and join the bushi.  Not surprisingly, Yosunobu is NOT excited about being a chef and he struggles with this.  Additionally, he resents his father picking him a bride and makes Haru feel a bit unwelcome.  Still, Haru is a devoted wife and makes it her goal in life to help this family and Yosunobu to become among the greatest chefs in the land.  And, over time, perhaps she can win Yosunobu’s heart as well.

This story has a lot of great elements that should have made it work well.  So why wasn’t I bowled over by it?  Well, there are two main reasons that the film is only fair in my estimation.  Unlike great cooking films, A Tale of Samurai Cooking actually spends very little of the film focusing on cooking itself.  When I watched Babette’s Feast, for example, the food stirred my senses–the food and the footage of the cooking were very sensuous.  You cannot help but feel hungry and have your emotions stirred as you watch.  But in A Tale of Samurai Cooking, my senses were rarely piqued like they were in the best cooking films.  Additionally, midway through the movie, a LOT of political intrigue occurred–with lots of names I didn’t really care about and scheming which never seemed to pay off.  In other words, the main thrust of the love story was diluted by these other plots and the two plots didn’t seem to work well together.  However, I did say the film was fair–the acting was good, the film interesting.  But to me it seems like a case where there are just so many Japanese films out there, perhaps you might want to keep looking for one that is more compelling.

Grade: B-

by Martin Hafer