July 04, 2019

Food fiction

The cooking show is a mainstay of Japanese television. That's certainly true of PBS Create too. And Gordon Ramsay practically constitutes his own network. Educational cooking programs are a staple of broadcasting in every market.

While Hollywood has a fondness for movies about cooks and cooking, ranging from Ratatouille to Julie & Julia to Big Night, it shies away from the genre when it comes to scripted television series.

Scripted television (anime and live-action) is where Japanese entertainment stands apart. I don't mean dramas and comedies that happen to take place in a restaurant or bakery or bar. I mean dramas and comedies that specifically revolve around the culinary arts, with concrete references to dishes, recipies, and ingredients.

In a "gourmet drama" (gurume dorama) the drama is mostly an excuse to talk about cooking, not the other way around.

Repurposed as a gourmet drama, Cheers, for example, would still be a comedy. But it would also devote a considerable amount of attention to Sam's ongoing search for the best beverages to serve his customers and the resourceful brewers who meet that need. And Frasier wouldn't be the only one with a picky palate.

Along the way, the loyal viewer couldn't help but learn a good deal about the bar and brewery business.

Consider the manga Wakakozake, which spawned both an anime and a live-action series. Aside from a few lines of plot, each episode consists of our heroine discovering a new hole-in-the-wall restaurant and eating dinner. The live-action version includes detailed information in the credits about the real restaurant where each episode was filmed.

Practically any setting and subject matter is fair game.

The manga Bakumatsu Gourmet also spun off a live-action series. Banshiro Sakai is a samurai who works as a cook in the castle of the provincial governor during the Bakumatsu period. This dramedy faithfully hews to the established trope that any problem can be solved given the right meal, so great attention is devoted to ingredients and recipes.

At the opposite extreme are silly series like Ben-to. A bento (弁当) is a Japanese box lunch, traditionally hand made, but also sold at supermarkets and convenience stores. Replace the second kanji with「闘」(combat) and the result is a made-up homophone that means "food fight."

Fighting over the food are a bunch of penny-pinching boarding school students battling for the precious remaining bento that are deeply discounted right before closing time. Since not all bento are created equal, the challenge is to figure out the best strategy to win the best bento worth fighting for.

In the middle are slice-of-life melodramas that pay a lot of attention to what everybody is having for dinner. Laid-Back Camp, for example, is as much about cooking as camping. Granted, my familiarity with cable television is thin, but the only Hollywood show I can think of that meets the above criteria is Bob's Burgers.

Here is a sampling of gourmet dramas (a more complete list here).

Food Wars!
Gourmet Girl Graffiti
Kakuriyo: Bed & Breakfast for Spirits
Isekai Izakaya (anime) (live-action)
Laid-Back Camp
Silver Spoon
Sweetness & Lightning
Today's Menu for the Emiya Family
Wakakozake (anime) (live-action)
What Did You Eat Yesterday (manga)

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Eat, drink, and be merry
Hungry for entertainment
The toast of Japan
Carnivorous vegetarians
Kitchen Car

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# posted by Blogger Matthew
7/06/2019 6:59 AM   
The problem I always had with cooking anime is that I can't taste the food as such I find it hard to care. The shows are just not my taste. Okay, bad pun.

However, the manga Golden Kamuy, which I like because of the Spaghetti Western elements contains a lot of cooking scenes. They also explain how the food was trapped and slaughtered sometimes which I find fascinating. So having elements of cooking shows isn't a complete turn of. (It probably helps that a lot of what they eat are really weird.)