Surely every lover of the films of Yasujiro Ozu has, at one time or another, contemplated visiting Tokyo to seek out the beloved filmmaker’s spirit in the Japanese metropolis. Wim Wenders, a director of no little belovedness himself, did just that in the early eighties, in the process creating the documentary Tokyo-Ga. Amid interviews with the master’s collaborators, visits to his shooting locations, and paying respects to his grave, Wenders makes the time to become transfixed by a fake food workshop. When I get hungry here in Japan, I don’t just duck into the first eatery I see; first, I give careful consideration to the wax replicas of their dishes displayed in the window or out on the sidewalk. Restaurant owners commission these deliciously realistic models from operations just like the one that so captivates Wenders in the clip from Tokyo-Ga above. Noodles, shrimp, fruit, even sandwiches — this shop can craft it all. “It all starts with real food,” Wenders explains, “over which a gelatinous mass is poured, then cooled. The finished molds that result are filled with wax, and then these wax forms are trimmed, painted, and worked on further. ”
And how. Painstakingly and entirely by hand, these fake-food artisans labor to achieve culinary reality. What could this possibly have to do with Yasujiro Ozu, the auteur of Late Spring, Early Summer, and Floating Weeds, Wenders’ ostensible subject? I would hardly call it too much of a stretch to compare Ozu’s methods of filmmaking with these workers’ methods of wax food construction. Both approach their chosen pursuit as a craft to be regularly and methodically honed and practiced. Both dedicate their lives to ostensibly humble but subtly astonishing products. Both seem to embody a deeply Japanese sensibility, though perhaps one more often observed or remarked upon by foreigners than natives. Presumably we can all agree on the pleasure of gazing upon a well-made bowl of wax udon. But if you aren’t yet an Ozu enthusiast, watch for tomorrow’s post, wherein I’ll do my best to introduce you to his cinematic craft.