Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: A slice of life drama
Availability: Netflix, Japanese with subtitles
Plot: This twelve-part Japanese series, produced by Masayuki Kusumi in 2017, is not exactly a cooking show. But it is a lovely example of what can happen when Eastern philosophies integrate with the cultural appreciation of food. In the first episode, we are introduced to Kasumi, who is newly retired from his corporate job. Indeed, at the beginning of every episode we are reminded that he has lost his title and the support of his company, and he feels it deeply. It is day-one of his retirement, and Kasumi is at a loss to know how he will spend his day. Then he stumbles upon a little local restaurant where he experiences food that engages his senses, brings back nostalgic memories, and helps him to overcome his fears and anxieties, his shame in drinking beer in the middle of the day, and to find happiness and fulfilment in this new phase of his life.
Filming and Setting: In each episode of Samurai Gourmet Kasumi takes us to a different restaurant where we watch the food being cooked, and we see his enjoyment as he savours it. The restaurants feel and look authentic as we experience a slice of Japanese life – that is until a samurai arrives just at the moment when Kasumi needs guidance. The samurai is his alter-ego of sorts, sword-wielding and wearing traditional costume. His wise parables embolden Kasumi into actions that he would otherwise be reluctant to take. The appearance of the samurai, while a little odd at first, brings both humour and a liveliness to the drama that is a nice balance to Kasumi’s philosophical contemplations.
Cast: There are three main characters in the series and all, in their different ways, are impressive. Naoto Takenaka is terrific in the role of Kasumi. His expressions of joy as he shares the art of the meal requires no translation. Honami Suzuki as his tolerant wife Shizuko, who is subtly effective as she gradually gets the better of him in their traditionally gendered household. And the handsome young Tetsuji Tamayama as the samurai is gusto personified as he encourages the hesitant, and frequently conflicted Kasumi to be more adventurous.
Personal Comments: Watching Samurai Gourmet is like watching children gathering autumnal leaves and tossing them in the air. It is delightful and heart-warming. There are many moments of joy in the series. It’s gently amusing and unexpectedly poignant, particularly as the series explores Kasumi and Shizuko’s relationship. Don’t be put off by the second episode (The Demoness’s Ramen) where Kasumi has a joyless experience in a Chinese restaurant. The use of cultural stereotypes as comedic effect falls flat, a rare misstep in the series. You may prefer to skip it all together and go with the joyful innocence of a sixty-year-old man‘s coming of age story as he finds peace in a gourmet fantasy.