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November 02, 2011

Starz Denver Film Festival 2011 - Food and the Maiden

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Meshi to otome
Minoru Kurimura - 2009

That the title of Minoru Kurimura's film is a play on a more famous title is immediately confirmed by the first few notes of Franz Schubert's "Death and the Maiden". Is there such a things as chamber film as there is chamber music. Kurimura's film revolves primarily around four characters, and mostly takes place in enclosed spaces. The main difference is that Schubert's music was about the acceptance of death, while Kurimura's film is about the acceptance of life.

The film is about the relationship between several characters and their relationship with food. The sweet center of this story is Saori (the irresistible Mayu Sakuma), the cook at a tiny Tokyo restaurant called Coo. There is also the two office workers, a woman constantly bingeing and purging little snacks, while her coworker hides behind his lunchbox, as if to keep any other predators away. Soari has a crush on Kujo, a young man who regularly comes to Coo simply to drink and nibble on nuts. For Kujo, eating is a private matter, done alone at home. There are a couple of sayings attributed to Buddha regarding food that bookend the film, and a Buddhist priest is one of the recurring characters, seen most notably eating a pork cutlet sandwich that Soari had intended for Kujo. The true religion of this film though is the love of cooking and eating carefully crafted food.

Almost analogous to the way the presentation of the food is often the best part of the meal, likewise Kurimura demonstrates in his debut feature that he is a promising visual formalist. The first images in the apartment of the bulimic Mie are a series of lateral traveling shots that blend together as the camera crosses walls. An overhead shot of Saori appears like main dish with a formal assortment of appetizers on the side. Kurimura doesn't just film the cooking of food, it's almost like he's dived into the boiling pots and frying pans. In one shot, the screen is virtually filled with the image of an egg yolk.

One of the other great images is with the use of red, as Mie's fingers, splashed with blood, slice open a cut of liver, and image both horrifying and salacious. The red imagery is continued with Mie's shirt and hair band. No blenders here. Kurimura relishes extreme close ups of calamari, shrimp, and various vegetables and spices, sliced and chopped by sharp stainless steel knives. Prior to making his own films, Minoru Kurimura had worked with Wong Kar-wai, and shares with Wong an enjoyment of observing his characters' idiosyncrasies without need for judgment, allowing for the humor of a given situation to reveal itself. Food and the Maiden could well be the only foodie film where vinegar is an aphrodisiac.

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(Viewed as DVD screener)

Posted by peter at November 2, 2011 08:16 AM