Review: 'The Last Recipe' is a magical depiction of food and cooking

Marcus Goh
PHOTO: Encore Films

One can take elegant, beautiful shots of food — but push it too far, and it drifts into the realm of food porn.

Fortunately, “The Last Recipe” never descends into such territory. Based on the Japanese novel of the same title, this culinary drama follows the adventures of modern-day talented extremist chef Mitsuru Sasaki (Kazunari Ninomiya) as he traces the life of legendary Imperial chef Naotaro Yamagata (Hidetoshi Nishijima) in the 1930s, in a search for the eponymous recipe. In the process, he discovers more about himself and the philosophy of cooking to bring balance to both sides of his life.

“The Last Recipe” brings out the sheer magic and love of the culinary arts with its beautiful shots of dishes. More importantly, it goes into exquisite detail about the preparation of said dishes, showing how every part of the cooking process is conducted with passion and grace. There’s no step that’s too small or insignificant to display, from just the simple act of pouring bonito flakes into broth to a skilful display of stir-frying. It romanticises cooking in an elegant and delicate fashion, showing audiences why it is so therapeutic to create food for others.

PHOTO: Encore Films

However, the cuisine is not just limited to Japanese dishes. Styles from different countries are incorporated into the food featured, allowing for wider audience appeal. One of the unsaid themes of the film is how fusion cuisine brings people together, which is espoused in Yamagata’s philosophy of cooking.

The tale of two generations engages as it jumps between the two time periods. Part of what makes it so interesting is the way the narrative develops — the ’30s story is presented as a mystery for the present-day protagonist to solve. The film weaves between both plots at the most dramatic points, to create a film that rouses curiosity and tension while still taking the time to let you appreciate the good food that’s on display.

PHOTO: Encore Films

The parallel plots are also thematically linked, with certain dishes carrying heavy symbolic meaning. One of the most memorable features of the film is how it imbues emotion into even the simplest of dishes, showing you that there’s more to cooking than just the taste and technical aspects. In fact, that is one of strongest themes of the film — how food is inextricably linked with emotions, and the best dishes are the ones that evoke such feelings.

However, it can be difficult to deliver interesting shots of people eating food. As a result, the film tries its best to convey the bliss and amazement of diners with close-up shots that can be rather exaggerated at times. Characters give extremely contorted facial expressions when eating, resulting in some dampening of emotional moments. Still, it drives home the point that they are eating truly historical dishes, rather than just random creations of the chef.

“The Last Recipe” is a magical movie that reminds audiences of the power of cooking and how food links all people together. It not only shines in how it depicts cooking, but also in the emotions and impact that a good dish can have.

PHOTO: Encore Films

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch it more than once? No.

Score: 4.5/5

Running time: 126 minutes

Secret ending? No, but the credits are interesting to watch.

“The Last Recipe” is a Japanese food drama based on the novel of the same name.

The film is directed by Yojiro Takita and written by Tamio Hayashi, based on the original novel by Keiichi Tanaka. It stars Kazunari Ninomiya (Mitsuru Sasaki), Hidetoshi Nishijima (Naotaro Yamagata), Go Ayano (Ken Yanagisawa), Yoshi Oida (Qingming Yang), Daigo Nishihata (young Shotaro Kamata), Togo Igawa (Shotaro Kamata), Aoi Miyazaki (Chizu Yamagata), Yutaka Takenouchi (Taizo Miyake), and Wakato Kanematsu (young Qingming Yang). It is rated PG.

PHOTO: Encore Films

“The Last Recipe” opens in cinemas:
– 25 January, 2018 (Singapore)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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