The Flavor of Happiness follows the story of Takako Yamashita (Miki Nakatani), a single mother looking to get elderly Chinese chef, Wang Qingquo (Tatsuya Fuji) to provide food for a new department store’s food level. When he rebuffs her, Takako is persistent and finds herself eating his cooking every time she tries to convince him to sign the deal. Rediscovering her love for food, she makes an impulsive decision to quit her job and learn to cook under Wang.
The film is very well acted, with Fujii definitely blowing me away with his command of Mandarin throughout the film. He delivers a stellar performance and I was genuinely interested with his character. Nakatani’s Takako is quite good as well with her culinary skills rising reasonably for the progression of the picture. Her steadfast dedication and endurance is typical of many similarly themed Japanese films, but her portrayal is quite effortless. With a solid supporting cast also, the film is well rounded, but rightfully keeps the focus on Wang and Takako.
Production on the film is quite good. With camera direction similar to Ozu, director Mitsuhiro Mihara gives a clear and intimate eye to the story. He lingers on shots and lets his actors develop the scene and he shoots a darn moving film. The music is well done and while not extraordinary, it matches the scenes well and provides the right little nudge that makes you, the audience, feel exactly what the director wants you to. There is a great little rendition of “There’s No Place Like Home” which is particularly poignant when in the context of this film, but the film lets you make your own interpretations typically, it is never patronizing but intelligent. The cooking scenes are great with my mouth watering throughout the film. The finale dinner sequence had my stomach rumbling. It’s a great scene and one I found to be very memorable.
The plot is a simple one, but that is part of the beauty of the film. Never losing its focus or being bogged down with too many characters, the film is able to delicately tell the story of the connection between food and matters of the heart. While not a love story in the classical sense, love can be between people, family, and in this case, food. The power to bring people together via food is a great little sentiment, one to which I subscribe fervently.
This film was quite a surprise. I’ve made no secret my affinity for movies featuring cuisine. Adding one of my favorite Japanese actresses in Miki Nakatani, I was probably predisposed to at least enjoy the film, my it was amazing how much I loved it. It’s a warm and well filmed picture with great performances and a truly touching tale of the circumstances and food that can bring people together. With such a delightful and heartfelt film, it was easy to watch the film again. I’d say this may be my favorite Nakatani film. Definitely check it out.