Takano Tofu

European  Premiere | In Competition

 

Guest star:
MIHARA Mitsuhiro, director

 

Ozu Yasujiro famously called himself a “tofu maker,” turning out movie after thematically and stylistically similar movie the way makers of the humble soybean-based staple turn out block after indistinguishable block. Of course, the director of Late Spring (1949) and Tokyo Story (1953) was an artist of the first rank, but the protagonist in Mihara Mitsuhiro’s heartwarming drama Takano Tofu is no drudge mass-producing tofu for supermarket shelves.

Takano Tatsuo (Fuji Tatsuya), is a dedicated craftsman, and his tofu is celebrated as the best in his hometown of Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, and its environs. Though he sells his tofu to a local supermarket, he also runs a shop with his daughter Haru (Aso Kumiko) serving loyal customers.

Stubborn and set in his ways, Tatsuo is a type familiar from innumerable Japanese movies and TV dramas, one nearly always framed as loveable, no matter how much grief he inflicts. Fuji – the star of Oshima Nagisa’s notorious X-rated drama In the Realm of Senses (1976) – has made a late-career specialty of playing grumpy old men, including the photographer in Mihara’s 2004 Photo Album of the Village and the Chinese chef in his 2008 Flavor of Happiness, making Takano Tofu the third in a cranky craftsman trilogy.

Fuji is a master of his acting craft, though, adding layers and nuances that set Tatsuo apart from the typical cinematic elder, just as his tofu, which we see Tatsuo lovingly make in mouthwatering detail, is a cut above the rest.

However, the story is designed to wring tears from stones with staples of the typical Japanese melodrama: a medical catastrophe and a long-hoped-for marriage that will rescue the 40-something Haru from a lonely spinsterhood. The resemblance of the latter storyline to that found in Ozu’s classic Late Spring is obvious, just as the on-screen relationship between Fuji and the talented Aso echoes that between Late Spring stars Ryu Chishu and Hara Setsuko. Not that the film is in any way an Ozu homage.

As the story begins, Haru and Tatsuo are working together harmoniously in well-worn grooves. But Haru wants to innovate – cheese-flavored tofu, anyone? – while Tatsuo is content to keep doing what he has always done. Then a doctor tells him he needs surgery for an arterial blockage, and the problem of finding Haru a life partner – she and her ex-husband split years ago – acquires fresh urgency.

Tatsuo interviews prospective grooms, with his aged buddies from the shotengai (shopping street) serving as a comic Greek chorus, and settles on the handsome and sophisticated owner of five Italian restaurants. How can Haru resist, given her international tastes? Meanwhile, Tatsuo deepens his acquaintance with Fumie (Nakamura Kumi), a cheerful older woman with her own medical issues. They also share a past trauma: Both are survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The ending hits notes of Ozu-esque pathos, as life’s changes shatter the illusion of human stability. But Tatsuo’s tofu, we hope, will endure.

Mark Schilling
Film director: MIHARA Mitsuhiro
Year: 2023
Running time: 120'
Country: Japan
29/04 - 4:45 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
29-04-2024 16:45 29-04-2024 18:45Europe/Rome Takano Tofu Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org
Online in Italy until the end of the Festival

Photogallery