[Review] The Last Recipe

What happens when a talented chef loses his passion for cooking and is saddled with debt from a failed restaurant business? This is the premise of The Last Recipe, which is based on the book authored by none other than Iron Chef director Keiichi Tanaka. In addition to foodporn you’d expect, the film also features a diverse mix of cast members, including Go Ayano, Hidetoshi Nishijima, and Japanese idol Kazunari Ninomiya.

Ninomiya plays the role of Mitsuru Sasaki, a chef with the legendary ‘Qilin tongue’ – he can recreate the exact dish after tasting it just once. In order to pay his restaurant debt, he specialises in recreating ‘final meals’ for the wealthy, and one day he receives a request from a wealthy Chinese client to recreate the mythical Imperial Feast created in 1930s Manchukuo. He’ll have to recreate the dishes from a recipe that was lost for nearly 100 years.

What starts off as a quest for the mysterious recipe book soon spans into a tale of life in Manchukuo in the 1930s when it was a puppet state of the Japanese, giving us a glimpse into what that part of China looked like under Russian and Japanese influence. In between the foodporn montages, the narrative manages to weave in aspects of politics and treachery that lead to an interesting plot twist at the end.

In learning about the creator of the Imperial Feast, Mitsuru realises that Chef Naotaro Yamagata (Hidetoshi Nishijima) also possessed the Qilin tongue, and that their attitude towards food mirror each other’s. For both chefs, it was their perfectionism that drove a wedge between them and their happiness, and like many Japanese movies, there is a clichéd lesson to be learned. For Mitsuru, it is through his journey for the Imperial recipe that he discovers his true past.

To make things interesting, the movie spans 3 generations, neatly weaving in every character you meet in happy coincidences. Visually, the movie is stunning, not least because of the outlandish dishes created. Foie gras in grapefruit bowl? Check. Even the names are fancy – take ‘Persian Lady’s Drunken Revelry’, for one. You’ll be forgiven if you feel hungry after the movie.

In order to give the film the realism, all the actors learned how to cook professionally – for Ninomiya, it was especially challenging since he’s left-handed and had to use his right hand for the movie. Most amusing is the role of Ken Yanagisawa (Go Ayano) – Mitsuru’s only friend – who spends much of his time on screen tossing fried rice.

The recipe for this movie is heavily into nostalgia, foodporn, and eye candy, peppered with tear-jerking moments and a dialog that is at times riddled with rather odd accents. Even though the crux of the movie focuses on the personal journeys of Mitsuru and Naotaro, it is an interesting premise to weave in food as a chess piece for political gain, set in an era that few Japanese movies portray.

At the end, The Last Recipe is a feel-good movie that manages to put all the pieces of the puzzle together in a neat, visually-pleasing package.

The only surprise is probably in the transformation of Yutaka Takenouchi into the gruff-looking Japanese army colonel