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Asian cinema: Japanese films

Film review: What’s for Dinner, Mom? – Japanese family drama with a Taiwanese culinary twist

This domestic weepy about the healing power of home cooking continues Japanese cinema’s enduring love affair with food, while the culinary delights on display throughout will have stomachs rumbling until the end

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 December, 2017, 8:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 December, 2017, 8:03pm

3.5/5 stars

Japanese cinema’s enduring love affair with food continues in What’s for Dinner, Mom?, which explores how a mother’s skills in the kitchen kept her family together following her husband’s death.

Based on actress Tae Hitoto’s memoir, the film is a visual feast of traditional Taiwanese cuisine, anchored by Michiko Kawai’s endearing performance as the culinary matriarch.

The film begins 20 years after Kazue’s (Kawai) death, when her daughters Tae (Haruka Kinami) and Yo (Izumi Fujimoto) visit their childhood home and discover their mother’s old recipe books. Yo has a successful singing career, but Tae is still struggling to find her purpose, so she travels to Taiwan to learn more about their mother and her cooking.

The Japanese-born Kazue left her homeland when she married a Taiwanese man (Wu Pong-fong). In Tainan they had two daughters and Kazue embraced the local culture, but her husband’s political associations put a strain on the family. Years later, Kazue returned to Japan with her teenage daughters, and struggled as a single parent. But her food always managed to bring the family together, especially when she cooked pigs trotters.

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What’s for Dinner, Mom? exudes an effortless sense of homespun affection that is hard to resist. Kawai gives Kazue an awkward eccentricity that adds to the already disarming mix, while the food on display throughout will have stomachs growling furiously.

Occasionally the film strays into the convoluted political situation of 1960s Taiwan – and these sequences feel wholly out of place in what is otherwise a richly drawn domestic weepy about the healing power of home cooking.

What’s for Dinner, Mom? opens on December 14

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