“Jimami Tofu” has all the elements that I love in a foodie film: good food, characters who are passionate about food, and relationships that occur around food. That's why I couldn't figure out why I initially had a hard time with it.
After watching it twice, I realized that it had nothing to do with the food.
In foodie films, I normally relate to the chef character. Although a majority of "Jimami Tofu" revolves around a beleaguered chef named Ryan (played by Jason Chan), the overall story arc belongs to his estranged girlfriend, a food writer named Yuki (Mari Yamamoto).
“Some people develop a keen ear for music, or an eye for design. I’ve developed a sharp tongue,” says Yuki, referring to both her impeccable palate as well as her reputation for writing vicious restaurant reviews.
It becomes apparent that Yuki hasn't heard the philosophy that honesty without compassion is cruelty. Yuki believes her scathing articles are honest feedback that help restaurants improve. She doesn't realize her words carry ramifications that can affect people's livelihoods.
I could list all the things I didn’t like about this film, but what would that accomplish, and where would be the compassion in that?
Overall, “Jimami Tofu” is an entertaining film. Disparaging it because of a few plot elements would be like writing a bad review after an amazing meal because I didn’t like the wallpaper in the restaurant (I’m talking to YOU, internet trolls!). If I did that, I would be no better than Yuki.
So in the film, an apathetic Yuki leaves Ryan, which sends him on a two-year odyssey to find her.
As Yuki settles into a magazine job in Singapore, Ryan’s search brings him to a small town in Okinawa where he meets Yuki's childhood friend, Nami (Rino Nakasone).
In Okinawa, Ryan learns to appreciate the local culture, reciting lengthy and poetic epithets about the cuisine. “Okinawan castle walls are wide, low and without turrets,” muses Ryan during one of the film's many musical montages. “They were not built for defense, they were built for trade, and their legacy has been kept alive within their food – deep, sophisticated, nuanced and balanced, like the relationships they once had with the far reaches of the world.”
Just when Ryan seems to finally be moving on, Yuki returns to upend his life once again.
Yuki’s arrival, at first glance, appears to hijack the third act from Ryan. However, when I realized that it was never really his story to begin with, I could see how Yuki’s arc bookends Ryan’s within the film.
Almost two-thirds of the film is devoted to sympathizing with Ryan, but he doesn’t really need any sympathy. The budding romance between him and Nami makes it clear that he was always going to be okay in the end.
Although not as likeable, Yuki has the bigger obstacles to over come, which makes her a much more complex and interesting character.
“Pain, the taste of chili, of curry. It’s transmitted by pain nerves on the tongue," ponders Yuki while reviewing a restaurant. "Who would have ever imagined that anyone would create dishes, cuisines around pain? To eat pain on a daily basis. It’s a taste of my own medicine.”
Despite his screen time, it’s Yuki’s world, and Ryan is simply along for the ride.
I really had to work in order to appreciate this film, which has become the biggest thing that I like about “Jimami Tofu.”
This film has done something that few foodie films do: It made me think.
My wife and I have been discussing the merit of this film for three days now, and every conversation results in a new perspective and a deeper insight into the characters and their motivations.
This is a film that will stick with you like its namesake dish, if you let it, and that makes it well worth seeing at this year’s HIFF.
Nov. 9 & 11 5:30—SOLD OUT
Additional screening added: Sunday, Nov. 12 at 12:30 p.m.
2017 HIFF Fall Showcase presented by Halekulani
Nov. 2 – 12
Regal Cinema Dole Cannery 18
735 Iwilei Rd.