If only one theme emerges in the documentary “Wa-shoku: Beyond Sushi”, it is the importance of presentation in Japanese cuisine.
Director Junichi Suzuki may have taken a tip or two from the chefs and experts he interviewed. Jumping among subjects, places, and talking heads, his film begins to resemble a tray filled with an all-you-can-eat buffet rather than one of the sleek pieces it presents in a tantalizing close-up.
the traditional dietetic culture of Japan, or wa-shoku, is much more than food; UNESCO has inscribed this expression of aesthetics and seasons on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. As disorganized as Suzuki’s treatment of the subject is, it conveys the idea of centuries-old traditions and the passions they inspire. Beyond sushi, sideboards cover tofu and sake, visits to the Tokyo fish market, and brief discussions of Shinto animism and umami’s flavor profile.
In many ways, this is an LA story – a story of the city’s ongoing cultural fusion. Suzuki (“Toyo’s Camera”) anchors it with profiles of personalities who have played a key role in popularizing Japanese cuisine in the United States: chefs Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa and Katsuya Uechi and the food importer Nonagenarian Noritoshi Kanai, who is often credited with bringing sushi to the West in the 1960s. The rambling history of Kanai’s partnership with Harry Wolff and their Little Tokyo restaurant, Kawafuku, characterizes Suzuki’s approach.
But despite its awkwardness, the film expresses the fusion of the modern and the old, the sensual and the sacred: on the one hand the favorite Ramen Burger of gourmets, on the other the hymn of a chef to the “rhythm” a bowl of ramen.
“Wa-shoku: beyond sushi.”
MPAA Rating: Nothing. In Japanese and English with subtitles.
Duration of operation: 1 hour 47 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena.