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A Second Serving Please!

Review of Netflix Series: 'Samurai Gourmet'

Kodoku no Gourmet, dir. Masayuki Qusumi. Perf. Naoto Takenaka, Tetsuki Tamayama, Honami Suzuki, 2017, Netflix

In the last year, Netflix has impressed us by bringing new and remastered anime and live-action shows from Japan. Among the socially-realistic Aggretsuko and the disappointing Death Note movie, this live-action adaptation of Kodoku no Gourmet is sure to give you a mouth-watering story you would want seconds of. Translated as Samurai Gourmet, it tells the retired life of a man who rediscovers the joys of life and observes the many ways he could change his attitude towards others by thinking of what a lone samurai would do. It is a heart-warming series that would make you want to try Japanese cuisine for yourself.

When I started the first episode, I was skeptical. The images were overexposed and gray in colour. It was as if the shots were not edited. It is later evident that this washed out environment was a way to contrast when our retiree Takeshi Kasumi from when he was in a place with food. Each restaurant has its own colour and feel. Some restaurants have warm and inviting colours while others have cooler but relaxing hues. Colour is also a nice way to distinguish the modern world from the illusion in which the Samurai lives. It is difficult to tell if Kasumi is delusional or has a great imagination but whenever the Samurai interacts with the scenario, the image is light sepia like 17th-century photos or parchment art. It gives those interactions an aged look that would remind you of myths and old samurai movies.

Samurai Gourmet has the same love for food as the anime Food Wars: they both make good food look extremely appealing. The directors of the series know how to film food and to make it as tasty as possible. They must have had an idea of what makes a good advertisement with a combination of sound and colour. The light and colouring of the shots beautify the food in the making. The close-ups of food in the pots and saucepans helps to see how dishes are locally made. It would be like culinary art or a cooking show that really shows you food like you never saw it before. Dishes that do not seem appealing are rescued by Kasumi’s reaction to them. In one of the episodes, he tries out a pasta which the sauce is just ketchup. Although that sounds like a dish a broke college student would make, the character really sold how delicious it was to him. Some of his expressions are absurd, trying to recreate the manga’s over the top expressionism. It is a well-known occurrence if you are a little familiar to live-action adaptations of manga and anime. Some expressions and poses look awkward and out of place in our reality. Some of them are however subtle to show his satisfaction with the dish. His expression reminds me of when a child likes food. It shows how the food brings back his innocence from his younger years. There are episodes where he eats dishes from his childhood. With his new retired life, Kasumi takes his time for the first time in a while and reminds himself of the carefree nature he has forgotten.

Bad food is rarely shown in this series, but, when they are, it feels overwhelming to stay in the shop it is sold at. In Episode 2, Kasumi goes for ramen in a suspicious Chinese corner restaurant. The colours were oversaturated and made the place look eerie and suffocating although the place was completely empty besides himself and eventually, the owner of the shop. One of the traits of the better foods is the colour of the food and how warm it looks. The ramen was cold and dull. The owner was also filmed in a way to make her look bigger and more obscene to us. For a rare moment, the camera is looking up at the owner with overstated makeup and low standards as to show how intimidated the retired man is. Kasumi, in contrast, is often filmed at eye level. However, whenever the Samurai appears, he is filmed from higher up, indicating how he feels lesser than the master-less soldier. Other characters would be portrayed with this camera trick which shows the skill and care behind the making of this series.

The myth of the lone Samurai is a role model to Takeshi Kasumi. He is an asserted person because of his history as a company worker. Speaking up is his main weakness. In many episodes, he struggled with speaking his mind or stepping up for others. He imagined how a Samurai would deal with it. He has rude table manners but he uses his adventurous mind and learned wisdom to deal with spoiled children, rude bar customers, and unsatisfying food. In most situations, however, the conflict resolves itself or by other people around Kasumi. Although it could be considered an inconsistency, it shows how he can find role models in his current era like the waitress telling the loud customers to shut up and the old regular customer standing up for tourists trying out their local food against the chef. He would eventually follow the Samurai’s guidance and take risks like defending young ambitious workers and trying out new food with his wife. The main character’s slow learning curve and self-resolution might be a weakness of the series in some views. I believe it adds realism to overcoming difficulties. It is impossible to become a master of something on your first try. When Kasumi finally speaks up, it is a great moment of character development for him. He would however not repeat it again because of more intimidating characters but here is to hope that he will still grow in a second season…

I would highly recommend to readers to watch this gem for great filmmaking, a relatable and sweet character and great visuals of the food of Japan. I have not read the manga, but I can say that this, on its own, was a very enjoyable series besides the slips in the exaggerated anime-style acting. It has a lot of heart and enjoyable moments with the retired Takeshi Kasumi and the wild nameless Samurai.

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