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Chillin' with "Samurai Gourmet"

I have a hard time thinking of the right way to sell Samurai Gourmet.

I want to just dismiss it as, "You hang out and watch a retired Japanese man eat food."  That's not all that far off from the truth.  The show doesn't have a true conflict, despite being framed as serialized drama, and although there are comedic bits, it's not a laugh-out-loud riot.  It's not exactly a love letter to food, either.  And the more I think about it, the idea of contextualizing the main character's life with the spirit of a samurai is not 100% clear all the time.  So, I'm not even sure that the title is totally accurate.

Despite all that, this is a really enjoyable show that's perfect for kicking back your feet and relaxing after a long day.  I'd recommend it to anyone.

Samurai Gourmet is about the laid-back exploits of Takeshi Kasumi, a recently retired businessman who has spent much of his life buttoned up and thinking only about work.  Now that he's got nothing but time on his hands, he wanders around looking for stuff to do.

Because of his lack of explicit goals, he sees parallels between himself and a ronin, who would likewise wander the country without a master to serve.  Hence the "samurai" aspect.  At times, those parallels become literal when he goes into Daydream Mode and imagines an actual samurai coming into his modern world and interacting with people.  Usually those sequences represent Kasumi's gradual unbuttoning as he learns to embrace a life without direction and to indulge in earthly pleasures as they come his way.

If I'm being honest, the samurai sequences don't really work for me all the time.  Sometimes it makes sense so you can see how Kasumi is allowing himself to be a man of physicality and emotion, and other times it feels like the samurai is just walking on set because the show has "samurai" in the title and he didn't want you to forget.  For example, there's one episode where Kasumi's kinda-spoiled niece (grandniece?) joins him for dinner, and he's annoyed that she's on her phone and being self-centered.  The samurai comes into the scene to point that out - but c'mon, guys.  You don't need a samurai to tell you that it's rude to be on your phone at dinner, do you?  And if so, how much do you pay him to follow you around and point that stuff out?


Anyway, I'm getting off track.  The point is that there's not really much to the show besides that.  Each episode basically follows Kasumi as he tries out some new or under-appreciated experience.  He starts by feeling a bit uncertain or even ashamed to try it out, and then he likes it.  Usually there's food.

I think what I like about the show, and the reason I'd so excitedly recommend it, is that Kasumi's journey is that of a burgeoning foodie without all the bullshit that normally comes with it.  Foodies are always going on about pure ingredients and artisanal craftsmanship and original flavors and all that other garbage.  But that's not really the point.  Strangely, foodies often misunderstand food.  (See also: my rant about food criticism in my review of Chef.)

The point is simply that you stop what you're doing and savor the experience of what you're eating.  Food doesn't have to be expensive or artistic or unique - most of what Kasumi eats are simple dishes that are made at home or at ordinary cafes.  Sometimes food doesn't even have to be good at all - one episode features Kasumi eating a cold bento box when he's really hungry, and the way he feels in that moment turns it into a fantastic, mouth-watering experience even though the meal itself is just a mass-produced calorie pile.

Kasumi is a soul unbound from decades of routine in search of simple pleasures.  He doesn't have much of a journey to go on - pleasures surround him literally everywhere.  The joy is in allowing himself to pay attention, and that simple message is a beautiful moral to cap off a rough day.  You've just spent an hour in traffic after working a ten hour shift, you got caught in a rainstorm, your kids are shouting at you, you have a headache - but stop for just a second, literally one second if you can, and think about how tasty your chicken parm is.  Isn't that worth the attention?

So, yeah, there isn't much character growth, there isn't any drama, and the laughs are hit and miss.  Just come and hang out while an old Japanese guy eats stuff.  It's great.