Looking back at my career so far, I realize that I’ve been running this blog for… well, at least 7 years now. And when I started, I was originally determined to cover only media that fell in the science fiction and fantasy genres. But, as you can guess, a lot can change in 7 years. My tastes certainly did. And while my love for sci-fi and fantasy remains unabated, I’ve branched out a lot more. For every epic movie like Guardians of the Galaxy and every urban fantasy novel like American Gods, I do stop and enjoy quieter, more wholesome media. In this case, I fell for a Japanese Netflix Original series called Samurai Gourmet.
Based on a manga series by Masayuki Kusumi, our show is centered on the newly retired Takeshi Kasumi (played by Naoto Takenaka), who finds himself without much of a purpose in daily life. He does, however, love reading books about samurai and he sets out to find new types of food to enjoy. He’s essentially on a gourmet-style journey, pushing himself outside his comfort zone after 60 years of living. Meanwhile, as Kasumi faces his doubts in each new encounter, he’s not alone. He constantly daydreams about a masterless samurai (played by Tetsuji Tamayama) who acts as his alter ego, acting bold and eating well in opposition to Kasumi’s meek nature. It’s from following this inner samurai spirit that Kasumi learns to eat well and truly enjoy life.
I love the style of this show. Yes, the emphasis that the camera places on food being prepared in each episode is tantilizing. But that’s not the only great thing. It’s also in the shifts of architecture and costume design whenever Kasumi goes into one of his daydreams with the nameless samurai. The producers put a lot of thought into how they might transition from a 21st-century diner or pub and turn it into an Edo Period tavern, complete with turning each loudmouthed patron into a bumbling samurai that our hero has to contend with. Sometimes a little attention to detail like that can go a long way.
The more I watched this series, the more I realized something. This show feels like an inversion of the premise behind Sofia Coppola’s stellar film Lost In Translation. Only, instead of following an aging Bill Murray and a bored Scarlett Johansson, we’re caught up in the personal experience of Kasumi, a retired salaryman. I say it’s an inverted experience because Coppola’s film features two Americans searching for meaning in a foreign setting. In Samurai Gourmet, we’re following a man born and raised in his own country. Yet the search for meaning remains the same, with a particular focus on cuisine and asserting his identity after all these years. It’s also inverted since we’re not dealing with some of the Japanese stereotypes that were played for laughs in Lost in Translation. Instead, we get a story about life in Japan from a Japanese perspective.
I must admit that I love getting into stories like Samurai Gourmet and Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. It’s a chance to wet my beak in a culture different from my own, and to enjoy quiet, meaningful stories instead of searching for the next big drama or the latest side-splitting comedy. I won’t deny that this show can be a little too simple or (dare I say) corny for some audiences, but then again, not everyone lives for the sheer dramatic turns and twists of a show like Game of Thrones either. Sometimes a little peace and quiet in a local diner is all we need.
Bibliography: Samurai Gourmet (Netflix Original). Created by Masayuki Kusumi. Produced by Kaata Sakamoto. Perf. Naoto Takenaka, Tetsuji Tamayama, and Honami Suzuki. Netflix. Original release date (Japan): March 17, 2017.