Japanese movies make me hungry

No matter what kind of Japanese movie it is–whether it’s horror and there’s a foreboding water stain on the ceiling while a mother and child eat their meal (Dark Water, 2002, or I may be remembering it wrong), or it’s a bloody action film and there’s a killing rampage the following day after the young trained assassins have dinner together (Azumi, 2003)–as long as there’s a dining, cooking, or any food-related scene I suddenly get a craving for Japanese food.

A bento of sushi goodness in Maruchan

So I especially get hungry when the food is an integral part of the plot.

Tampopo (1985) is probably the most popular Japanese film that revolves around Japanese food, particularly ramen. P and I used to watch it often–it was our go-to Japanese food porn flick–then we would regret it because we would be craving for a bowl of ramen right in the middle of it and there were no good ramen places nearby. How does it go? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

Ramen-induced insanity aside, last year, I got to watch Chef of South Polar (2009) in Eiga Sai and I think I found my new Tampopo. It’s a movie that revolves around a Japanese research team dispatched near the South Pole for a year and amidst all that ice and isolation, are glorious meals prepared by the team’s devoted resident cook that brings them all together to the table every time. It’s funny, heartwarming, and generous with the mouthwatering spreads and scenes of sushi, onigiri, ramen, heck even Lobster Thermidor. You end up looking forward to the meal as much as the characters, who are all doing their best (ganbatte!) and finding ways to cope in the middle of nowhere.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the full trailer here, via Nippon Cinema.There are no English subtitles but the food is probably enough to make you want to see it. After the movie, you will also want to trek to the nearest Japanese restaurant, so plan ahead.

Finally (though likely not the last), there’s Still Walking. Though the acclaimed film doesn’t center around food from start to finish, one of its ‘most memorable ingredients’ (I shamelessly lifted that from the Criterion Collection) is the food prepared and cooked by the Yokoyama family, particularly by its matriarch, for a family gathering, the reason for which is gradually revealed.

With the opening line, “Radishes are geniuses” and a close-up of radishes as it’s being washed, I was glued to my seat. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (the same guy behind After Life, another must-see!), Still Walking unfolds like an ordinary day in the life of a middle-class family sitting down for a meal; but it is in those everyday routines that the family’s story, grief, and dysfunction quietly expose themselves (no screaming and sabunutan matches here, thank goodness).

It’s a moving story and while it left me with a bit of lump in my throat, the dishes being prepared for lunch (from Kore-eda’s own childhood, as his mom used to make them) stuck with me as well.

Luckily, the Criterion Collection BluRay edition came with a booklet on the movie and recipes! of the dishes from the movie. The Corn Tempura seems like the simplest recipe among the bunch, so it’s what I’ll try to make first this coming weekend. I’ll add the photo here once it’s done. Wish me luck!

Corn Tempura

Frying oil
1/2 cup flour, plus more for dredging
1/2 tsp baking powder
salt and pepper
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup water
kernels from 2 ears of corn
sesame oil

1. Heat frying oil to 350degree F. In a small bowl, combine the 1/2 cup of flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.
2. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolk and water.
3. Add the flour mixture to the yolk mixture and combine to form a batter.
4. Dredge the corn kernels in flour and then stir them into the batter.
5. Remove the corn from the batter with a slotted spoon and form into small patties, incorporating some sesame oil with your hands. Fry until golden brown.

UPDATE: After nearly a week, I finally got to cook some corn tempura! (Yes, I’m excited over corn tempura) I think I got too excited to try it that I forgot about the other pieces cooking and they got a bit burnt. The recipe called for golden brown, I think I just ended up making this batch below, brown. In any case, I’m happy I got to try cooking and eating some corn tempura–they turned out crispy and the corn kernels while they had a soft, sweet flesh, still had some bite to it. Or was it pop? At one point the oil was probably so hot, one of the kernels popped. Exciting stuff, I tell you.



11 thoughts on “Japanese movies make me hungry

  1. Still Walking and After Life are brilliant. I was choked up with emotions after watching both films because they captured real life and emotions brilliantly. I might have to get the Criterion Collection version after your details about the release.

    The Chef of South Polar looks pretty interesting as well.

    Good luck making the Corn Tempura! I expect a blog post about it πŸ˜‰

    • I was surprised when I started tearing up a bit towards the end of Still Walking as the grandmother and grandfather walked up the stairs because of the narration of the son that went along with that scene… I felt like my emotions just snuck up on me. Damn Kore-eda!

      Anyway, now I have a bag of corn that’s staring at me from the kitchen counter. Will post an update here once I do get around to cooking those kernels.

  2. This all sounds very interesting. πŸ™‚ And to one who has gone years (yes, years!) without having gone to a cinema, that is saying something. πŸ˜€ You do have a way with words. Oh, and the corn tempura looks to be a success! Well-done!

    • Hi Mariella, you remind me of my sister in the movie-going aspect (or lack of it), she also doesn’t go to cinema so much… but I think she broke her ‘cinema fast’ for the movie Argo, hehe. Does this mean you also don’t watch movies in DVDs so much?
      Yes, I like how the corn tempura turned out. It’s a good afternoon snack…but a bit of work. Thanks again for visiting πŸ™‚

  3. Just discovered your blog by way of Genkinahito. I love Japanese films and like to eat Japanese food as well. Looks like the movies you’ve listed above are great for the Holiday season.
    I would like to mention Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me and Sometimes Dad. Food and the company of friends seem to be two of the most common occurrences in that film, which made me ache for my own Mom. Kiki Kirin was simply amazing as the mother who loves to cook dishes for her son and his friends…

    • Hi Jed, thanks for the Japanese movie recommendation of Tokyo Tower. I’ve never heard of it before so I’ve looked for the trailer… scenes with spreads of food and friends, a son caring for his sick mom, I think I’ll end up hungry AND sobbing at the end of this movie. I also love watching Kiki Kirin in Still Walking and I’m sure she’s also effective as the mother in this movie. Now, must hunt for this movie. Thanks again! πŸ™‚

  4. Films are mostly like maths to me. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ That is to say, I often don’t get it. πŸ˜€ My favorites are invariably romances though. Haha.

    Football is my soap opera/live theater/cinema. πŸ™‚ There is something strangely sacrosanct about watching a player master the pitch, beat his last defender, wrong-foot the opposing keeper, and bulge the back of the net with the ball!

    Cue the hallelujahs!

    I like Tsukiji best of the local Jap restos after Nanohana in Valero and Akiga at The Podium closed doors. Kai is a close second. Nihonbashitei is always value for money. I hear good things about Mitsuyado Seimen, but haven’t tried their food. Have you?

    • “Films are mostly like maths” hee πŸ™‚ I have to say I don’t watch a lot of football (the last game I think I watched from start to finish was when Japan played in the last World Cup), but I always like the way you describe the sport–such reverence and fondness.

      I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t eaten in Tsukiji resto (criminal, I know, what do you usually order?) … I like the yakitori platter in Nihonbashitei (yah, it’s sulit!) and my husband has also been telling me we should eat in Misuyado Seimen because it’s supposedly good there. Maybe after this holiday season, when the traffic eases a bit, I shall venture to Makati πŸ™‚

  5. Oh, but you should!!

    If I am not paying: steamed rice, miso soup, potato salad, ume nigiri platter, kan saba, tonkatsu, hiyayakko, Angus rib-eye, no sweets.

    If I’m not paying, I upgrade EVERYTHING: fried rice, miso soup with fish head, daikon salad, tokujo nigiri platter, kurobuta tonkatsu, gindara saikyo, wagyu ohmi, and fresh fruit.

    The second menu is THAT much better. πŸ˜‰

    The hamachi is always good. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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