Movie Review: Food Luck! (フード・ラック!食運)

Does it need to be said that the Japanese love their grilled meat?  Like so many things in that country, the Japanese have elevated the food to an art form with websites dedicated to discussing everything from which restaurant has the tastiest yakiniku to teaching when and how to flip your meat over on the grill.  Japanese comedian, Jimon Terakado/寺門ジモン, who is also a yakiniku foodie, has chosen this subject for his directorial debut based on a story idea he thought up.

The amusing but dangerously named FOOD LUCK! tells the story of Yoshito Sato (dancer, rapper and actor Exile Naoto/片岡直人), the son of Yasue (TV actress Ryô/りょう, ENTER THE VOID), a young widow who once ran a popular yakiniku restaurant.  Now an adult, Yoshito is short of luck, and not just of the food kind.  An unemployed freelance writer, he’s being evicted from his home for non-payment.  On top of that, he’s estranged from his mother.  Out of the blue, he gets a call from Eiji Shinsei (Ken Ishiguro/石黒賢, Japanese TV series KIOKU SOUSA: SHINJUKU HIGASHI-SHO JIKEN FILE/記憶捜査~新宿東署事件ファイル~), the editor of a food website asking him to come for a meeting.  There, Yoshito meets the plucky Shizuka Takenaka (actress, model and dancer Tsuchiya Tao/土屋太鳳 (THE 8-YEAR ENGAGEMENT/8年越しの花嫁 奇跡の実話), a junior editor who loves to refer to apps and online reviews to find the hottest places to eat.  Shinsei wants the young pair to go around town sampling yakiniku to find and report on the city’s best.  Although Yoshito is resistant, he’s not exactly in a good financial position to turn down a job offer.  As Shizuka and Yoshito begin their quest, Shizuka quickly learns that Yoshito knows a lot about yakiniku – and certainly more than the city’s eminent social media food critic, the pompous Tatsuya Furuyama (Satoru Matsuo/松尾諭, SHIN GODZILLA/シン・ゴジラ), but things start to get complicated when Yoshito learns that his mother is in the hospital and her prognosis is not good.  The news sets Yoshito on a mission to try to replicate the taste of his mother’s signature dish – something that brought him so much happiness as a child.

On balance, FOOD LUCK! is a fairly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours but Terakado has thrown a lot into this story that perhaps would have been better left on the cutting room floor.  While the bulk of story deals with the search for the perfect yakiniku, there’s also an unnecessary side plot involving Yoshito’s quest to recreate his mother’s nukazake (Japanese rice bran pickles), which hearkens back to the classic Japanese film, TAMPOPO/タンポポ.  Yeah, I get that the yakiniku experience also includes tsukemono but the film’s running time would have been better spent with either Yoshito dealing with the estrangement from his mother or, perhaps, a developing an offline relationship between him and Shizuka.  If I had written the story, I would have begun with the death of Yasue and then have Yoshito deal with the regret of not having reconciled with her.

Not surprisingly, there’s a huge amount of food porn on display here.  If you’re a beef lover, don’t watch this film while you’re hungry.  Pretty much every part of the cow – including some that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole – is grilled to mouth-watering perfection.  Naoto must have received grilling lessons because he turns the meat over like a pro.  Like so many Japanese films of this ilk, there are likeable characters all around.  Even the story’s antagonist isn’t such a bad guy after all.  Unfortunately, also like so many Japanese films of this ilk, Tao is relegated to bugging out her eyes and shrieking with delight each time she stuffs a piece of meat into her mouth.  For a story that mentions a couple of times that you have to chew your meat to best savour the complexity of the flavours, Shizuka doesn’t do a lot of chewing.

FOOD TALK! is harmless fun but it’s not going to be revered the way TAMPOPO is.  It opens in cinemas here in Hong Kong on Thursday (May 6th).

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, May 7th, 8:30 am HK time!

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