Director: Yukiko Mishima
Starring: Yo Oizumi, Tomoyo Harada, Yuta Hiraoka, Kanna Mori, Kimiko Yo
The Bread of Happiness follows Rie (Tomoyo Harada) and Sang Mizushima (Yo Oizumi), a young couple who operate a country cafe that specializes in their baked goods. As the two welcome guests throughout the changing seasons, the young empathic couple use hospitality and the power of Sang’s seemingly magical bread creations to solve problems, comfort, and all around satisfy those who enter their establishment.
Harada and Oizumi do well as the main characters, they are effective observers and bring a calmness to some of the situations their customers, both regular and seasonal, bring to their tiny shop. There are three sub stories that coincide with the seasons of summer, autumn, and winter. The summer story features Yuta Hiraoka and Kanna Mori in comedic summer love tale that is humorous but slightly low key. It features decent performances and sets the film’s tone. The autumn segment features Ken Mitsuishi and newcomer Yuki Yagi in a family drama. It’s a more serious segment that gives variety to the film’s themes. It is a well-acted segment that features a very good performance by the 12 year old Yagi. The final winter segment is a story about an elderly couple featuring Misako Watanabe and Katsuo Nakamura. Deeply affecting, this story has a powerhouse performance by Nakamura that is heartfelt and much nuanced. The local characters are recurring and do a decent job, but provide flavor rather than content. The idea of breaking bread takes on a literal meaning in this film, and it is a nice, but none too subtle, metaphor for the themes presented here.
The film has a generally sedate pace that is calming and suitable for the setting and tone. Set in a very picturesque part of Japan, photography of the locations is postcard worthy. The baking scenes and dining elements play very important roles in the film and it is hunger inducing. The eating and preparation of the food is as important as acting in a film like this and it certainly does not slouch. The art direction of the film is very unique; despite being set in Japan, there is a decidedly European look and feel to the design. Characters wear vests, caps, slacks, and shoes that would not be out of place in an Ingmar Bergman film or period Italian movie. It’s a unique look that I felt didn’t always work, but it made for an interesting take. This extended to music as well, with festive music and the use of an accordion concertina. It fits with the theme of Western cuisine well but I wasn’t always in the moment like many of the characters were.
In conclusion, Bread of Happiness is decent food drama that features solid performances but seems to be missing that something to make it stand out. The episodic nature of the film keeps you unable to truly identify with any of the characters beyond their featured moments, and I couldn’t help but think that the film would have worked better as a television series. While offering solid performances and an interestingly designed concept, Bread of Happiness is a unique food film from Japan that should satisfy fans of the subgenre.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Kamome Diner, German mountain films, and Patisserie Coin de Rue