I got to see a screening of this film at Dc's Japan Information & Cultural Center (JICC) last night. I like going to see films there, because often, they show movies that haven't been released in the United States yet. This is usually because the actors of subject matter is so obscure or specialized that distributors just don't think there's a market here for these movies. But, I don't know why that is. It seems like you can always find people who want to rent all kinds of crazy DVDs. And, this film is actually particularly charming and funny. But it is pretty obscure. The story is about the group of scientists living at the Dome Fuji Station, a Japanese research facility in the heart of Antarctica. And, it's told from the point of view of the crew's long-suffering resident chef. He was a cook in the coast guard, and was assigned to a stint in Antarctica against his and his family's wishes. These guys are in Antarctica on an expedition collecting ice core samples, and it's scheduled to last around four hundred and forty days. All the scientists have their own experiments to run, and they all help with regular chores around the station. But they can't be expected to take care of all their needs by themselves, so they've been given a chef—the titular character. And he's a pretty easygoing, indulgent guy too, to put up with all these guys' wild shenanigans. All this sounds pretty cute, but I can understand why a distributor would have thought this wouldn't do too well outside of Japan.
The story is absolutely delightful. It's full of all the sorts of quirky characters you'd expect to find at an isolated, scientific outpost. And, all the sorts of bizarre behavior you'd imagine they'd engage in too, once the reality of their over-four-hundred day mission finally hits, and the real boredom sets in. The moping, the boozing, the improvised (sometimes nude) sporting events, and all the other tomfoolery. And, then of course, there's the eating—one of the most reliable diversions life has to offer. Heck, the airline industry figured that out ages ago, offering various snacks and nibbles every couple of hours on those long-haul flights. And let me tell you, this chef whips up some of the most exciting meals imaginable—and all from frozen ingredients! But, the boredom is the least of these scientists worries. They at least have their official jobs and chores to throw themselves into if the going gets rough. Their biggest problem is really the loneliness. They're far away from friends and loved ones. But, they're also separated from every other element that was familiar from their old lives. It's a big shock to the system to be thrust into such isolation.
But, these eccentrics manage to help each other through their various episodes. They all go through a few. And, they manage to drive their long-suffering chef almost crazy in the process. It's wild and wacky fun. I loved this movie. But, unfortunately I went before having eaten dinner. It was almost torture watching course after course of delicious, steaming, Japanese food served up, with my stomach grumbling the way it was. It also made the film seem a little longer than it probably was. It runs a bit over two hours, which isn't too crazy . . . unless you're starving. (I've been eating nothing but Japanese food since I saw the film.) I'm not sure when you'll ever get the opportunity to see this movie since it seems to only be playing the festival circuit right now. But, if you ever do, make sure you see it. And schedule a big Japanese dinner for afterward!
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