A time-travelling samurai who learns to make pastry? Yes, we’re deep into the Japanese Film Festival now with an adaptation of Gen Araki’s Chonmage Purin (ちょんまげぷりん). Yoshihiro Nakamura has gathered a solid following over the last few years, especially with the recognition that Fish Story and Golden Slumbers earned him. On the surface, the premise of A Boy and His Samurai sounds a little silly, but one could say that about so many films when stripped down to their basest of elements.
Kijima Yasube (Ryo Nishikido, TV’s Full Throttle Girl), a samurai from the Edo Period of Japan, suddenly finds himself 180 years in the future in present day Tokyo. Initially unable to comprehend his surroundings, he soon becomes attached to single mother Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka, Abraxas) and her son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki). Yasube takes on domestic chores in return for food and shelter, but soon finds an incredibly talent for making desserts. Entering a local competition, all of their destinies will soon change forever.
The premise of A Boy and His Samurai would be enough to get it over the line as a curiosity at the very least, but it would also be nothing if not for the heartfelt writing behind the three principal characters. The initially taciturn Yasube overcomes the problem that most fish-out-of-water comedies have, in baffling their subject with mod-cons and then not knowing where to take this character. Infusing him with unexpected intelligence, Yasube becomes the ultimate samurai of domestic duties, folding laundry with precision and fussing over his cooking. The gives both the actors and the audience something to work with, ensuring that while there are some inevitable unrequited moments of romance, this largely steers clear of both rom-com and Encino Man territory. Likewise, both Rie Tomosaka and Fuku Suzuki are capable performers in their own right.
When the film rather unexpectedly takes a turn into the joys of cooking, we are treated to an extended set of montages of cooking. “Food porn” is almost a genre unto itself in Asian cinema (see JFF15’s Patisserie Coin de Rue), and A Boy and His Samurai can’t resist the lure of lingering long over luscious layers of lavish cakes and puddings. During the ultimate cake-off, a giant Edo-era castle is built out of cake, complete with tatami mats and little samurai, it looks good enough to eat, and probably is.
A pure joy of a film, A Boy and His Samurai once again proves that Yoshihiro Nakamura deserves to be recognised outside of his home country. Mixing time-travel with cooking is not your everyday event, but Nakamura somehow grounds this and makes it work within the context of modern Tokyo.
A Boy and His Samurai played at the Japanese Film Festival on 26 November (Sydney) and 6 December (Melbourne) 2011 at the 15th Japanese Film Festival in Australia.