What I had expected from The Last Recipe was: lots of narration layered over soft orchestral music, some flashbacks that would take us back to war time, and the struggles of solely one guy – the Chef – the supposed creator of the Last Recipe, the guy who held the Qilin Tongue in his mouth.
I had expected a movie that was centred around the main character at all times, with all of his thoughts and actions influencing how the story would go – maybe he would be running from a planted bomb to cook in the darkened kitchen of another country he had fleed to.
The struggles he bore would be created by the war and himself, and then the story would end by him having a grand vision of a free life, and hence he whipped up the Last Recipe – a dish that signaled his freedom.
That was not the case.
Directed by Yojiro Takita, The Last Recipe was clearly a reflection of the high-quality that Takita — the Oscar Award-winning Director (Departures) — invests into his works. In other words, The Last Recipe took whatever expectations I had and threw them out and above the window — this movie exceeded my expectations.
Special thanks to Encore Films SG for the kind invitation to the 22nd January Premiere.
Firstly, the movie wasn’t about one guy and his troubles – it was about one guy and the trouble another guy caused him, one that would pass down three generations.
The Last Recipe provides meaning to the phrase “the plot thickens”. All events twist and turn and conspiracies with bad intent and conspiracies with good intent both occur simultaneously. To add both of these miraculous plot twists into the same broth and still have tasters of the broth feel satisfied, with a little belly-ache from laughing, is a feat that Yojiro Takita, the director of The Last Recipe (and Academy Award-winning film Departures) should be applauded for.
The movie, as the screen split into its first scene, delivers in terms of creating tension around the main character, Mitsuru Sasaki.
Under Yojiro Takita’s meticulous attention to detail, every single waving glade of glass seems to free at appropriate times when Ken Yanagisawa starts to scream about a brat named Mitsuru not answering his phone. Truly a relatable situation, ain’t it? Ken has this set to him which makes us feel uncomfortable – he is clearly someone who knows about “everything”, mayhaps all the events about to unfold – but it is clearly not him that is the main character because of that reason.
A gradual shift in lighting makes the transition to a hospice home from an orphanage seem natural – and our main character makes his entrance. The camera pays careful attention to the man’s large luggage; capturing the man’s nimble fingers undoing the clasps and the glinting of the silver trimming against sunlight streaming in from a window.
The contents of the luggage transform into a kitchen set. (Basically, the man sets up a place for him to cook within the tiny hospice room). The man possesses the Qilin Tongue in question – able to recreate the flavour of any food he has ever eaten into a tantalizing dish.
We quickly learn that the man is Mitsuru Sasaki, and he exploits his own talent as a chef possessing the Qilin Tongue to whip up final meals per request of rich clientele who pay him as much as 1 million yen per meal. Mitsuru Sasaki had gone bankrupt after his attitude with the chefs in his restaurant and his perfectionist ideals had sent both his chefs and his customers to the Exit. he makes these final meals to eke out a living, and to pay off his debts.
The first meal he cooks for us movie-goers is Omurice, and the orange of the egg spreading into a perfect circle in a flat pan looks almost sinful. The camera zooms into the man on the hospice bed; his spoon is trembling as he stares at the fluffy Omurice. Hamada-takeshi is the cinemetographer for The Last Recipe, and his work captures the feelings of people without narration needed – the man’s trembling grasp of his spoon shows how delicious the meal must be imagined in his mind, and how the Mitsuru has a reputation for cooking the most brilliant meals ever tasted.
But Mitsuru cooks with no smile on his face, no glimmer of satisfaction in his eyes. When the meal is cooked, simply asks for the cold, hard cash before taking his leave.
We get no explanation. However, we are rewarded with a flashback. The movie dives into its first cliche, a familiar one: Our main character had faced opposition to his dreams of becoming a Chef, though it does not deter him from opening a restaurant later on. In a subsequent flashback, we see him working in his restaurant’s kitchen, cold demeanour building up the wall between he and his chefs – the second cliche: A ‘Hero’ who is extremely talented, yet lacks the ability to offer positive interactions with his team. We see more of these scenes as the movie goes on.
I start to think that it’s the typical boy-meets-world and turns Hero sort of plot.
Note that I walked away from The Last Recipe extremely appreciative of the movie’s reinvention of numerous cliches. The cliches were there for movie-goers to fall into familiar, warm plot-lines, but the plot twists and top-notch acting of the actors/actresses has you willing to endure the cliches for a refreshing story.
While this is not not necessarily wrong, The Last Recipe is actually a grand tapestry of diverse plot-lines woven together in earthy colours that will touch the heart.
Our ‘Hero’ is sent on another gourmet request – this time paying 3 million yen. However, he’ll have to fly to Beijing. Upon arrival, he’s whisked off into a mysterious figure’s quarters – this person is “renown in the Chinese culinary world”, and makes me think that an epic cooking battle will commence. Instead, Mitsuru is paid 3 million advance and sent off to find a recipe for a 112-course feast – leading him to various other places in China, and fighting a battle with none other than himself.
From the moment he is handed the three million, he tells his best friend, Ken Yanagisawa, repeatedly that the gig is “shady”. However, he agrees to it, and the plot becomes more complicated with another new plot-line added to the mix – the story of Chef Naotaro Yamagata, set in 1933, Manchuria. Chef Yamagata is apparently the creator of the Last Recipe, having spent four years cultivating and refining the 112 exquisite dishes that will surpass any other gourmet feast of the land. Once again, each motion in the kitchen is processed by careful camera work, every action performed so deliberately and meant to tease movie-goers’ stomachs into rumbling like thunder overhead.
Our ‘Hero’ Mitsuru and Naotaro Yamagata are both remarkable chefs, but people who struggle to balance their perfectionism in the kitchen, and the relationships with their fellow chefs. This became a problem for present-day Mitsuru, who is in debt. For Naotaro Yamagata, he acknowledges this problem with the help of a well-used plot device: A tragic event. After his wife’s death, he started making dishes with more joy apparent on his face, and forged happier relationships in the Manchurian kitchens.
The cliche ends here for now – Mitsuru makes no “self discovery” after hearing of Yamagata’s tragic story; instead he calls Naotaro Yamagata out for “Running away” and that he was “Untalented” in the first place, if he cooked with the “warmth of family and love and all that” in mind.
Of course, the movie is 126 minutes long, and Mitsuru’s grudging disbelief of the 112 dish creation can’t be it.
Upon continuing his visits with people who were close to Naotaro Yamagata, Mitsuru discovers that the four years of Yamagata and his chefs’ hard work culminate in the betrayal of a chef, the realization of a horrible fate, and the death of the people close to him.
The movie comes back full-circle: Present-day Mitsuru, whose ice king facade is slowly beginning to crack, quickly realizes why he had faced resistance in becoming a chef when he was a teenager. Born with a Qilin tongue, but cursed with the Last Recipe – a literal book of the precious 112 dishes – the opposition he had faced was to protect him from death, an implication of being intrinsically linked with the creator of the historical Last Recipe.
What I love about the movie, besides the high production value, would be the thematic issues that were introduced. We have oppression of females in the past – even in her supposed own domain; the kitchen – racial tensions in 1933 Manchuria – the Japanese conquered Manchuria and claimed Manchukuo in the 1930s, and the Chinese were not agreeable with this – and an exploration of brotherhood – between Mitsuru and Yanagisawa, Yamagata, Yang and Kamata – in both present-day and 1933. While the themes presented were not fully elaborated on, the plot-threads pertaining to these thematic issues revealed enough circumstance to recognise the significance of each issue with relation the themes. On that part, credit should be given to the Director for exploring such ideas in a story touted as a largely culinary concoction.
Overall, The Last Recipe was one that left me feeling rather full…from the depth of the plot, and from the stunning visuals served in cinema. #Recommend
Once again: Special thanks to Encore Films SG for the kind invitation to the 22nd January Premiere. Definitely looking forward to another collaboration ❤
Encore Films: https://www.facebook.com/encorefilms/