In Netflix’s 2017 Samurai Gourmet, Takeshi Kasumi faces a challenge for which he has no easy answer. Having retired at age sixty, what is he to do with all his time?
Perhaps to the relief of his loving wife, Shigeru does not opt to hang around home moping1. Instead the mild-mannered retiree ventures out into a world that work had not allowed him to explore. He soon settles on a pastime to fill the endless hours: eating. His city is filled with restaurants; Shigeru sets out to sample them.
Shigeru did not survive his thirty years as a sarariman by making waves. Or by being courageous. In his new occupation. Shigeru often finds himself in circumstances for which he is ill-prepared. What is the poor man to do?
Turn to a nameless Sengoku-era samurai, of course. Shigeru is too self-effacing to speak up. Not so his imaginary sensei, whose bold actions in Shigeru’s dream sequences will show the retiree how it’s done … if only Shigeru can overcome the instincts of a lifetime.
It’s a pleasant change of pace to immerse myself in a narrative in which the stakes are not The Fate of the Universe or Who Shall Sit on the Imperial Throne at the Very Core of the Milky Way. Shigeru wants to be polite; he also wants to achieve his goals. This conflict, it seems to me, is universal; who among us has not waited patiently in a burning room for an appropriate moment in which to mention the fire? Shigeru’s problems may not be large-scale; he and his wife may be the only ones directly affected; but they are very much real.
I hasten to add that Shigeru is not a Japanese Walter Mitty. He might wish to be as bold and outspoken as his dream companion, but his failure to be so doesn’t embitter him. He’s actually a decisive sort, in a way; faced with a problem (nothing meaningful to do), he works out a satisfactory (also enjoyable) way to spend his remaining decades.
I have not read the manga (sinful, admittedly, to base one’s opinions on an adaptation and not the original!) but it’s hard to imagine the comic being better than the TV series. In large part this is thanks to actor Naoto Takenaka, who plays Shigeru. Takenaka (who some may know from the film Shall We Dance?, among many, many, many other works) effectively conveys a range of emotions, from fearful anxiety to delight when a meal lives up to his hopes.
I have not yet watched the entire series, I am pacing myself. Only one season was produced; there are only twelve episodes. Once I finish the twelfth episode, that’s it. I’m saving it for dessert.
Samurai Gourmet is available on Netflix.
1: Retired husbands are sometimes called sodai-gomi, big garbage. Because they hang around the house getting in the way.