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Rinco's Restaurant
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by Jay Seaver

"An intimate dining experience."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: So, here's my question: If you lived in this tiny Japanese village, what sort of evidence would you need to declare that Rinco's cooking has magical wish-granting powers? After all, in the sort of small town where everybody knows everybody else's business, coming to that conclusion would almost certainly require positing that she spent her whole life eating take-out.

Of course, it's been a while since they've seen Rinco (Kou Shibasaki); she ran away from home as a teenager, unable to bear the taunting that came from being the fatherless daughter of Ruri (Kimiko Yo), who has extended her party-girl lifestyle well into middle age. She wound up with her grandmother, who taught her to cook, and that's where Rinco found her calling; she mastered every cuisine she could, and had save almost enough to open a restaurant with her boyfriend when he left her and took everything. So devastated that she lost the power of speech, she made her way back home to find her mother more eccentric than ever - she dotes on her pet pig Hermes to an uncomfortable extent. She does open that restaurant, though; she and her childhood friend Yuma (Brother Tom) clean up a tiny shed on Ruri's property. It's off the beaten path, and only has one table, but Yuma swears that the carefully prepared dishes grant the diner his heart's desire.

As with most food movies, the pleasures of Rinco's Restaurant are sensual. Dish after mouth-watering dish is prepared, served, and consumed, and director Mai Tominaga makes certain that the audience is aware of the intimacy of the setting; this food, or at least the image of it, is a treat for them directly, just as much as it has been lovingly and individually prepared for the character. Ruri's house gives the impression of free-spirited chaos but is actually very tidy, with a cute little sty for Hermes. And though the mountains for which Bosom Village are named are mostly a goofy visual joke, they do make for some nice scenery.

Director Mai Tomigawa also makes sparing but amusing use of songs and animation to give the story a bit of a fairy-tale feel, and the pig occasionally seems to talk to Rinco, but that doesn't make the movie overly cutesy. There's a certain depressed feeling that hangs around Rinco, and an awkwardness to how she communicates by writing on cards, that prevents the whimsy that otherwise pervades the film from taking over. Though this is often a bright movie, it doesn't let us forget that Rinco is a sad woman.

Kou Shibasaki probably wouldn't, anyway. She doesn't spend the movie scowling, but smiles cracked are rare. Since she doesn't speak throughout the vast majority of the movie, the audience's attention is naturally on all her little head motions and where her eyes are pointing, but I don't know that Shibasaki is actually doing that more than the rest of the cast. It's a nice performance, all the more so for not being overdone. It's a nice contrast to Kimiko Yo, as Ruri is supposed to be demonstrative and eccentric, although that doesn't take anything away when we learn about the tragedies and lost loves in her life.

The screenplay (by Hiroko Takai, from a novel by Ito Ogawa) does make a few odd choices; the story about a rival cafe seems obligatory and easily ignored. After this and the first Le Grand Chef, I'm also just going to have to remember not to get too attached to certain things in these movies.

If you like good food pulling people out of their melancholy funk, "Rinco's Restaurant" is a fine stop to make. It's charming enough to leave the audience satiated, but not overstuffed.

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originally posted: 07/31/10 00:20:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/17/10 mat Intriguing, with a sweetness, if you're interested in cooking and fantasy and cute things. 4 stars
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Directed by
  Mai Tominaga

Written by
  Hiroko Takai

  Kou Shibasaki
  Kimiko Yo
  Tomokazu Miura
  Hikari Mitsushima

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