[From June Issue 2014]
In the 1980’s when the food service industry really got established in Japan, a gourmet boom got underway, with people becoming increasingly particular about ingredients and recipes. “Oishinbo” (The Gourmet) was one of the driving forces behind this boom. The series started in the manga magazine, “Big Comic Spirits” in 1983 and continues even today. It is a popular series with over 100 million volumes in circulation; in addition to movie adaptations, animated and live action adaptations have been televised.
Reporters, YAMAOKA Shiro and KURITA Yuko, take up the challenge of creating the “ultimate menu” which will showcase the pinnacle of Japanese food culture for the hundred year anniversary of their newspaper. However, a rival company is planning a “supreme menu,” and this triggers a culinary battle between “the ultimate” and “the supreme.” KAIBARA Yuzan is a consultant for the supreme menu, and is also Shiro’s father. The two have been at odds for a long time over the death of Shiro’s mother.
As well as being a brilliant artist, Yuzan is a gourmet. His uncompromising attitude covers just about everything and spills over into his private life. On discovering that his son has an extremely sensitive palate, in preparation for adulthood, he gives him a through grounding in the basics of cookery. However, Shiro rebels against this strict upbringing and, when his mother dies of heart disease, destroys all of Yuzan’s artwork, before leaving home.
Shiro continues to nurse a grudge against Yuzan because he feels that by forcing his mother to continue working while she was sick, he was responsible for her death. He uses his mother’s maiden name “Yamaoka” in order to sever relations with Yuzan. The classic theme of father son conflict, overlaps with the cookery showdown and adds depth to the story.
Shiro’s feelings about his parents’ unhappy marriage cast a shadow over his life. While he is attracted to his colleague, Yuko, he is unable to make the first move. But by confronting Yuzan through the cookery showdown, Shiro gradually begins to face his past. When he brings about the marriage of a woman, he is inspired to propose to Yuko.
However, Yuko’s pregnancy makes Shiro anxious again. Shiro is afraid that he will be unable to love his own child because his father did not show any affection towards him, giving him no warm family memories. But when Yuko suffers from morning sickness, Yuzan teaches Yuko a dish that he had made for Shiro’s mother. Shiro becomes aware of Yuzan’s love towards Shiro’s mother and by extension, towards himself; this prepares Shiro for fatherhood.
The carefully drawn dishes are beautiful and the work also introduces ingredients in profound detail as well as the rich food culture of various regions. All the characters, including Shiro, learn to relate to one another through food and come to understand that “to eat” is “to live.”
Text: HATTA Emiko