As eluded in the films title, director Yuzo Asahara tackles one of Japans most famous, true-life love stories stemming from the final bloody years of the Samurai era. A Tale of Samurai Cooking follows the turbulent relationship between Haru, a precocious young maid who serves the concubine of the Kaga Lord and Yasunobu, a headstrong samurai-in-training, who after the death of his older brother, is forced from the dojo to join his father, the head Chef of the Kaga Domain, into the kitchen.
Starring Aya Ueto, former J-pop sensation turned actress and Kengo Kora of Norwegian Wood fame, A Tale of Samurai Cooking thankfully abandons much of the sandal clad rom-com elements you’d expect, to instead embrace the rich history that surrounds the narrative of Japan’s modern culinary pioneers.
For those uninitiated in the tale of Haru and Yasunobu, whose cookbooks still remain essential reading to Japan’s budding chefs, Asahara begins his account in the court of the Kaga Lord, where Haru, an lively orphan maid is invited to marry the son of the Kaga Lord’s chief chef after displaying a remarkable palate during an official function. Reluctantly accepting the proposal, she travels to the Funaki family estate where she meets her betrothed Yasunobu, an indignant samurai brat whose culinary skills are far removed from those of his father. As the two unenthusiastically begin their marriage, Haru slowly learns of the tragedy that had befallen her new family, depriving Yasunobu not only of his status as a warrior, but also of his childhood sweetheart.
With little to no common ground, it isn’t until the family honor is threatened by a power shift among Japan’s warlords that the two eventually begin bonding over their dedication to the culinary arts and realise each other’s strengths.
While beautifully capturing the visual splendor of the era, A Tale of Cooking Samurai never really succeeds as a ‘foodie’ film, often feeling disjointed as it struggles to balance the love story at it’s core against the grand political dramas that continually threatens to engulf the film and the audience.