This is Naoko Ogigami's third feature film, and the first Japanese film to be shot entirely in Finland, land of the midnight sun. As I mentioned in some other postings, cinema allows you to be transported to fantasy worlds, and of course in a more realistic sense, going to countries we have yet to set foot upon.
The movie is set around a Japanese diner in Finland, and its owner, Sachie (Satomi Kobayashi). The story revolves around the diner, as well as the friendships that Sachie develops, with customer and crew. The food, "soul foods" as in the menu, can make anyone salivate and feel hunger pangs, especially when the movie was screened into dinner time.
Pretty nothing much happens in Kamome Diner, except that there are plenty of people flitting in and out of the eatery. It's like watching a television series with episodes strung together, each putting the focus and theme on guest characters of the show, how they interact with the established leads. We are introduced to Sachie's first customer, a Finnish teenager who enjoys Japanese anime, and from there, one thing leads to another, as Sachie meets up with Midori (Hairi Katagiri), also another Japanese who left Japan to seek her fortunes in a strange land.
The customers in the diner is set up in the story such that it's directly proportionate to the friendships established by Sachie. It's like a vicious circle being broken, with the seizing of opportunities and the chance of befriending a customer, comes the breaking down of hesitation that others have about something that is new, something less seen, something different. And as it grows, so too does the number of friendships being formed, nurtured and developed, akin to the care put into the creation of recipes and the cooking of food.
By the end of it, everyone had undergone changes in their lives for the better, through subtle interactions, lessons learnt, and all these in a rather mundane manner of living life, in normal day to day activities.
The cast is a mix of Japanese and Finnish, and the dialogue too a mix of languages. But given its themes of friendship, belief, keeping the faith and being positive just about everything, it's ultimately a feel good movie, with plenty of subtleties, a dash of humour, and generous servings of well intentions.
After the screening, we had an opportunity to meet up with director Naoko Ogigami, who was in attendance to present both her movies for the day. It was a relatively small group who stayed back, about 20 of us, including the SFS crew, and we were treated to a snack of Japanese rice cakes and tea, which was a very nice gesture, given the significance of the food in the movie, as well as the fact that it was already close to dinner time.
I won't be covering anything significant about the Q&A, except to add that Naoko is extremely shy and soft-spoken, and actually let slip that she doesn't really like to direct (!), and prefers writing instead. Her movies so far have not been shot in the capital Tokyo, and she revealed candidly that she was afraid of the Yakuza. I suppose they probably could intimidate any film crew on set with the obligatory requirement of paying protection money?
In any case, almost everyone acknowledged that given the male dominated film industry in Japan, it was refreshing to have a female perspective in the industry, as to the films made and stories told.
The Q&A lasted about an hour, and ended without much fanfare. Discussions were launched into her inspirations, her background, and of course the actress Masako Motai, who will be in her next film as well, currently still under development.