Director: Yojiro Takita
Cast: Kazunari Ninomiya, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Go Ayano, Yoshi Oida, Daigo Nishihata, Aoi Miyazaki, Yutaka Takenouchi, Wakato Kanematsu, Togo Igawa
Runtime: 2 hrs 6 mins
Released By: Encore Films
Opening Day: 25 January 2018
Synopsis: Possessing the “Qilin Tongue”, Mitsuru Sasaki (Kazunari Ninomiya) has the unique ability to recreate any flavours he has tasted before from memory. After leaving the orphanage, Mitsuru sets up a fine dining restaurant with childhood friend Ken Yanagisawa (Go Ayano), but his business fails due to his extreme, perfectionist methods. To pay off his debts, he starts accepting offers to cook “last meals” for people at exorbitant prices. One day, he receives an offer and is flown to Beijing to meet Qingming Yang (Yoshi Oida), a renowned figure in the Chinese culinary world. Yang asks him to search for the missing the “Great Japanese Imperial Feast” recipe. Though sceptical, Mitsuru eventually agrees to the job after a lucrative offer, and begins to trace the footsteps of Naotaro Yamagata (Hidetoshi Nishijima), the Japanese Imperial Chef who created the recipe and who had disappeared along with it. As he meets one person after another who knew Naotaro, he arrives at an unexpected truth about both the chef and his recipe. Where is the recipe now? What was the secret that Naotaro had risked his life to hide in the recipe?
The Last Recipe is adapted from a Japanese novel of the same name. The movie is about a chef, Mitsuru Sasaki (Kazunari Ninomiya), and his journey of fulfilling one of his requesters’ last meal. It is said that Mitsuru possesses the ‘Qilin Tongue’, which allows him to recreate the taste of dishes from memory (when he tastes them). However, in order to recover the taste of the “Great Japanese Imperial Feast”, he has to embark on a search to trace the recipe and uncover what brought the generations together…
In all honesty, the narrative of the movie was not the most exciting. An unidentified stranger commissions Mitsuru for a job with a high payout, then leads him to several people to piece the story together himself, etc. The great revelation is then something which is not just about the recipe, but stories which bind the people across generations around the “Great Japanese Imperial Feast”, and uncovering the true meaning of the last recipe. Nonetheless, the story was unveiled with a touch of humour, and was heartwarmingly delivered, to say the least.
This movie is directed YojiroTakita, who directedthe Oscar-winning film, Departures (2008). If you were to watch the movie with that kind of expectations, you’re probably going to get disappointed. However, YojiroTakita stays true to his style in this movie – he makes no haste to story tell, and the emotions from the characters are accentuated by the camera work. For instance, the close-ups of Mitsuru towards the end of the movie has both top-down and bottom-up angles which brought out the differentexpressions of the character to life.
Further, there was attention paid to the intricacies of cooking – from the prepping of the ingredients to the different cooking methods. The efforts that go behind the dishes were charmingly captured.To help appreciate the little things from the movie, here’s a small trivia to share. Ninomiya (who plays Mitsuru) is left-handed and doesn’t cook. Yet, the team has helped him hone the craftso much that his right hand appears to be his master hand. The moves were really smooth and natural!
The cast of the movie is certainly a star studded one. Mitsuru is played by KazunariNinomiya, who won the Best Actor at the 39th Japan Academy with Haha to Kuraseba (2016). WhileNinomiya is notably a member of popular idol group, Arashi, the Japan Academy Prize is not simply a popularity award won by public votes. It was selected by a 4000-member movie association of movie affiliated professionals. In the past, he has also nabbed a role in Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), a testament to his acting skills.The other key character, the Japanese Imperial chef, is helmed by veteran actor Hidetoshi Nishijima. Bothof themhave breathed life into their respective characters and anchor the movie well.
An aspect that was lacking was the details in the set and filming locations. The story talks about 1930s and modern China and Japan, but you could easily tell that some were simply just taken in the studio. Also, casting non-Chinese actors to take on Chinese speaking roles feels rather out of place. In fact, Hidetoshi Nishijima spoke better Mandarin than the supposedly Chinese helper. In terms of soundtrack, there nothing impressive like the Joe Hisaishi’s score in Departures to look forward to.
Even so, overall the movie was well executed. For a narrative that doesn’t have that straight-up appeal, the production value of the movie and the cast has made this worthwhile to watch. The little details, coupled with a touch of humour make this human story a heartwarming watch.
(You may see it as #foodporn, but beyond that, it’s a charming, heartwarming tale which binds generations together)
Review by Tho Shu Ling