After fifteen years, the Festival of Food, Film and Culture has returned to UR—and it was worth the wait. Delicious, authentic food from around the world is paired with foreign movies in the four-week series presented by the Department of Modern Languages & Cultures.
Spanish professor Claudia Schaefer said that the department first tried to start the festival fifteen years ago, but the program died due to lack of interest. Recently, UR Language Coordinator Teresa Valdez joined the project and the festival was re-inaugurated. This semester features a foreign film and free food every Friday in February. The series kicked off on Feb. 6 with Mexican dishes and a screening of the 1992 film “Como Agua para Chocolate.”
On Feb. 13, the theme country was Japan. Delicious udon (Japanese noodle soup), pork and chicken dumplings, eggplants and rice were on the menu, served by off-campus caterer Susan Plunkett’s Fabulous Foods. The film was “Udon,” a 2006 Japanese drama-comedy. Visual & Cultural Studies (VCS) graduate student Joel Neville Anderson introduced the film.
Anderson described “Udon” as a “food-centric” film; specifically, one that focuses on the importance of food in society. When it first came out, rather than being reviewed in the U.S. by a movie critic, the film received attention from food critic Jonathan Gould, who complained that the film offered too many shots of noodles and soup at the expense of the story. Anderson noted that the film depicts a fictionalized account of a real-life “udon-craze” in Japan, in which citizens became obsessed with what the film calls Japan’s “soul food.”
“Udon” begins with an ending: the main character, a struggling Japanese comedian named Kosuke Matsui, is forced by mounting debt to leave New York City and return to his rural hometown in Kagawa Prefecture on Japan’s southern island, Shikoku. There, he is reunited with old friends and relatives, but fails to impress his gruff father, the owner and sole operator of a small noodle factory in town. One of Kosuke’s friends finds him a job at a local magazine, where he elaborates on the udon craze by sending the magazine’s readers on a scavenger hunt for the best local purveyors of the dish.
Rarely does a movie in the “dramedy” genre actually fit into that dubious category—but “Udon” does. It’s funny, campy at times, and a little bit nonsensical, like when the movie stops in its tracks halfway through and launches into a bizarre ten-minute tangent in which Kosuke is reimagined as a Power Ranger-type superhero named “Captain Udon.” On the dramatic side the film is powerful and poignant. One of the reasons Kosuke’s father won’t talk to him is because Kosuke’s mother died while he was away in New York City. This is mentioned offhand in the beginning of the film, in between two slapstick gags, but it doesn’t feel strained or insincere, because that’s how life really works. The tragic and the comic exist side by side, and the characters of “Udon” are a little more real because they know that.
So, if you check out “Udon,” make the effort to suspend your disbelief. Pretend, for a moment, that there could be a nation-wide craze over noodle soup, and you will realize that there there actually could be a nation-wide craze over noodle soup. There have been stranger fads. There have also been weirder comedies and sadder tragedies than “Udon,” but the movie holds its ground and the audience’s attention with believable, three-dimensional characters and just the right amount of humor.
If you missed the first two installments of the Film, Food and Culture series, don’t worry–you can still catch up. On Friday, Feb. 20, stop by the Gowen Room at 6:00pm for some delicious French dinner and a screening of the 2012 film “Haute Cuisine: Les saveurs du Palais.” On Friday, Feb. 27, the series will conclude with a Brazilian/Portuguese-themed event.
Passanisi is a member of the class of 2017.