Warsaw 2013 Review: Making Soups Is An Art Form In The Delightful DROPS OF HEAVEN
Japanese films only confirm the fact that citizens of this country take great pleasure both in cooking and in promoting their traditional dishes. Whether it's a comedy-horror such as Dead Sushi, anime like Spirited Away, western like Tanpopo, there's almost always even a smallest part of the film that concentrates on the act of gazing at or savoring delicious Japanese meals. While feature films have their special way of dealing with cookery, documentary filmmakers love to portray food pioneers from the Land of the Rising Sun, those veterans who not only go down in history as game changers in their specific profession, but also devote their lives to teaching people how to change the way we perceive cooking. Two years ago whole world watched with amazement and drooled at the sight of all the wondrous creations of one Jiro Ono, an uncontested sushi master chief from Tokyo in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
What Jiro did for sushi Yoshiko Tatsumi does for soups in Drops of Heaven. While the whole premise might sounds rather simple at first, the passion with which she makes them is truly admirable and inspiring. Taking after her mom, Tatsumi decided to spend her life experimenting with different kinds of food, writing books about them, and teaching a soup-cooking class at her home in Kamakura. Though the documentary focuses mostly on Tatsumi making scrumptious soups and giving cooking advice during classes, it's also a wonderfully enjoyable and heartwarming exploration of her rich life as a scholar, caretaker, and a person who tends to find beauty wherever she can. There's a really fascinating story in the movie, a heartfelt and touching one, all the more pleasurable due to a huge number of cut scenes showing all of Tatsumi's perfectly prepared dishes, depicted as genuine art form.
Through the rich and vivid portrayal of Tatsumi and her interaction with various characters the narrative argues that Tatsumi's so-called 'soup of life' is able to bring happiness to other people's lives. Serving it's purpose as a somewhat meaningful cliché the statement that the film makes is clear and convincing - even the smallest gesture, like preparing a meal for a person in need, can be a sincere act of kindness.
The act of soup making is only a bridge between Tatsumi's voyage into the world of food and a number of subplots relating to the post-Fukushima situation in Japan. It's as if though her signature dish was a sort of magical force that propelled a significant number of the society to help those in need.
While the lighthearted atmosphere of the film and its slight repetitiveness might discourage some viewers, there's not doubt that the melancholic and very tranquil rendering of the story is a perfect representation of the way the main character deals with food on a daily basis. She's seriously immersed in the process, and the tranquility that beams from her creates a harmony that makes Drops of Heaven and Japanese cuisine in particular even more inviting and interesting.
Fun fact: After the screening Mrs Mayumi Yanai, the producer of the film, handed out free 'soup of life' recipes. I'm ready to try to make it myself, and if you ever get a chance to get the recipe too I encourage you to give it a try!