Friday, January 30, 2009

Finger-licking Childhood Memories

While watching the show Zeni Geba (2008) starring Ken'ichi Matsuyama of "Deathnote" fame, I was reminded of the powerful role that food plays in our lives - specifically, examples from the addictive medium called Japanese drama.

J-dramas are full of symbolic references that tie food to special memories. Like in Zeni Geba: When Gamigori Futarou (Matsuyama) tastes soy sauce mackerel from a local restaurant, he is reminded of the childhood meal his sickly mother would make for him. In their dire poverty, she took home buckets of mackerel from her workplace - fish that was supposed to be thrown out because mackerel is so cheap that it is not ordinarily eaten. Gamigori's mother firmly believed that it was more important to be a good, honest person than wealthy. She said that if a poor person worked really hard to achieve happiness, it was possible. However, she soon dies because she can't afford the medicine to cure her illness. Gamigori turns a hardened heart toward the world and becomes obsessively money hungry (not the type of hunger I endorse).

Or in Ryusei no Kizuna (2008), in which a murder suspect of the parents of three young siblings is discovered by the daughter of the deceased fourteen years later over a certain hayashi rice (Japanese-style beef stew) recipe that brings tears of recognition to her eyes.

In Hana Yori Dango (2006), arrogant rich boy Domyouji Tsukasa loses his memory of girlfriend Makino Tsukushi after a cliff-side accident. He is seduced by Nakajima Umi, a girl at the hospital he is staying at. Makino makes every attempt to get Domyouji to remember her, even baking the same homemade cookies that won over his heart the first time. Nakajima tries to pass off Makino's cookies as her own, hoping to make Domyouji fall for her, but when she is asked to recreate them, Domyouji realizes he has been duped. His memory may be bad, but his taste buds refuse to be deceived.

The heroine of Absolute Boyfriend (2008) moves up from lowly receptionist to an entrant in a national patisserie contest when her boss takes one bite of her light, airy cream puffs. These puffs trigger memories of his beloved grandfather's version, who was a baker himself.

Whether it's Mom's, Grandpa's, or your own, food can comfort people in times of distress. It can cure evil temperaments, restore balance to a relationship and even assist in recalling vital facts. Do not underestimate the power of an amazing dish! Now, all of this talk about mackerel, hayashi rice, cookies and cream puffs has made me ravenous. What's your favorite home-style dish?