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The Chef Of The South Pole

Japan 2009
Directed by
Shuichi Okita
125 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Chef Of The South Pole

Synopsis: In the frozen no-man’s land of Antarctica at Dome Fuji Station, a Japanese research base, a team of eight men share a 12 month tour of duty. The hardest part is waiting for it to be over.   

The Chef Of The South Pole is a gently quirky film that will delight most people with its light-hearted take on the human comedy. Based on an autobiographical novel by Jun Nishimura, the chef of the title, it is a tasty blend of daily observation and elegantly simple aesthetics.

The film centres around the experience of Chef Nishimura (Masato Sakai), a Navy cook who gets shanghaied into a 12 month trip, not just  to the South Pole but a part of it so cold (average temperature -54C) that nothing lives there. The film opens with some of the men chasing one of their colleagues who has broken under the strain of cabin fever. When grappled to the ground he yells out pathetically: “I hate this place”. Like a loving parent (well, an old school one at least) his captor slaps him, tells him to pull himself together, then embraces him. And so the film begins, gving us the back-story to this point in time and taking us through the men’s experience of communal isolation.

Writer-director Shuichi Okita adopts a low key, elliptical approach, with the story told from Chef Nishimura’s point of view. As such the film largely revolves around the crew’s meal and recreation times with Nishimura a kind of surrogate mother to his disparate family who, like all families only come together at mealtime. Given that in reality the bulk of the activity at the station is nothing more than daily ritual, Okita has wisely realized that most of the interest derives simply from the intrinsic nature of his characters as expressed both by their everyday behaviour and their idiosyncracies of dress, hair styles and so on. Certainly as they succumb to the isolation their behaviour gets a little erratic, one develops a craving for butter, one gets slightly paranoid, and so on, but for the most part the film stays with the mundane, occasionally recreating Nishimura’s memories of the wife and children he has left behind in Japan.

The minimalist landscape of white ice and blue sky gives Okita, who is making his first commercial feature film, the opportunity to stage some charming exterior scenes with the men in their brightly coloured, thickly padded snow suits whilst he makes good use of vertical overheads to display Chef Nishimura’s culinary creations. The Chef Of The South Pole stacks up as a food movie but it is really in its depiction of ordinary people getting from day to day that the film makes its mark. In this respect too, it is delectable.




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