“Les Délices de Tokyo”, on Ciné Club: Naomi Kawase dives into the intimacy shared above the stove

Many cooks have experienced this initiation rite: leaning over the stove, they strive to follow the expert's instructions, while the object of their combined attention simmers in the pot

“Les Délices de Tokyo”, on Ciné Club: Naomi Kawase dives into the intimacy shared above the stove

Many cooks have experienced this initiation rite: leaning over the stove, they strive to follow the expert's instructions, while the object of their combined attention simmers in the pot. These instructions are often cryptic. A little more of this, less of that, slowly, faster... They will not be enough to transmit the secret. Cooking is an art that is learned with the eyes and the heart, through the applied imitation of eternal gestures and unique tricks.

In Naomi Kawase's film Les Délices de Tokyo, the scene in question is the subject of an original variation. The student, Sentaro, is the only one of the two characters to have the status of professional chef – limited to making Japanese pastries, dorayaki. The teacher, Tokue, is his employee. She is 76 years old.

Neither age nor status is, however, the real difference between Sentaro and Tokue. She wants Sentaro to practice his profession without pleasure. But Tokue loves cooking. When Sentaro starts looking for a clerk, the septuagenarian introduces herself: “I’ve always dreamed of doing this kind of work. » Sentaro does not understand, or no longer: first enigma. Tokue will offer him many others. To the taciturn and solitary Sentaro she presents the red beans as close friends, who must be “cooked with the heart” and with infinite “respect,” giving them time to “become familiar” with each other.

Repetition of gestures

The story of the film lies in this issue: building a familiarity between one being and another, like between a spoon and a pot, or between two flavors. To do this, deploy the necessary time, in the repetition of gestures and in learning. This lesson, the most important, barely passes through words. Or, rather, the words clarify it a posteriori. Sentaro will have to be receptive again to the language of beauty and joy, which he had stopped speaking and hearing. In the meantime, it is the gesture that speaks and becomes, under the cover of technical transmission, the interpreter of these words which do not yet speak to one's heart.

But Naomi Kawase, when she accompanies her heroes in the kitchen, takes great pleasure in hiding the key gesture from us: the eloquent hands, the ideal movement of the spoon. She films the sweat on the foreheads, the smoke, the dorayaki on the hotplate: we are close to alchemy.

The filmmaker has always known, through a graceful filmography, to preserve the mystery of her characters and, thus, their truth, the unexpectedness of their encounter. Here, with Tokue and Sentaro, the dodge is malicious: by depriving us of the secrets of cooking, it seems to remind us, at a time when reality TV is gorging on them, that the art of gastronomy cannot is never really learned except in the shared intimacy of bodies above the stove, the sibylline murmurs, and the encounters that nourish the heart.