Director: Naoko Ogigami
Starring: Satomi Kobayashi, Hairi Katagiri, Masako Motai, Jarko Niemi
Based on a short novel by Yoko Mure, Kamome Diner, or Seagull Diner, tells the story of Sachie, a Japanese woman living in Finland and operating a local eatery specializing in everyday Japanese cuisine. I have a soft spot for films that feature food as a main theme, not only because it whets the tastebuds, but because I am of the strong personal belief that world peace can truly be achieved by sharing cuisine. So does this film satisfy, or does it tell another fish out of water tale that we have all seen so many times before?
Sachie (Kobayashi) runs a small intimate eatery in Helsinki, Finland and business is not good, she spends most of the day cleaning and in the month that she has been open, has not had a single customer. Enter Tommi (Niemi): a local teenager with an enthusiasm for Japanese culture, who as her first customer gets his coffee for free. He quickly becomes a staple at the diner and is really Sachie first acquaintance in the foreign land. Later Sachie runs into Midori (Katagiri) and Masako (Motai), two Japanese nationals who for various reasons have independently arrived in Finland and end up assisting Sachie in the restaurant.
Together with her new friends, Sachie is slowly able to build a clientele and earn the affection of the locals, who at first were quite indifferent to the idea of a Japanese restaurant in the area. From helping out customers with problems to soothing the soul and stomach with ‘Japanese soul food,’ Sachie adapts to the pace of living in a foreign land and even finds the time to thrive.
The acting seems very natural with Kobayashi stealing the show; she is graceful and typically demure and carries herself very well. She also does not reveal too much of her back story and her reasons for starting a restaurant in Finland. Not a lot is known about her and she is just as mysterious by the end of the film as she is at the beginning. Of note is her ability to speak Finnish, and while I am not an expert on the language, seemed very naturally done and she even has long cuts with just Finnish dialogue, impressive.
The production value is high and photography great. Helsinki is shown as a quaint town with beautiful architecture and the film almost serves as a bit of a visual love letter to the city. The buildings and streets are almost their own characters in the film. The musical score is done by Tetsuo Kondo, someone I am unfamiliar with but he does a good job, particularly during the cooking scenes. He provides appropriately mellow and each character’s theme is memorable and fitting.
In the end, Kamome Diner touches upon the ideas of isolation, insecurity, and loneliness and how perseverance and hard work can help you to overcome. It is a charming little film that is lighthearted and flows at a comfortable pace and is probably going to put a smile on your face if you give it the chance, it sure as hell did to me. Highly recommended!
You may enjoy this film if you enjoyed: Eat, Drink, Man, Woman; Hula Girls