A new movie opened in Japan in late September called Nonchan Noriben (the rather sparse listing on IMDB ). Here’s a trailer:
The Nonchan part of the title is the name of the little daughter of the main character, Komaki. The Noriben part of the title refers to the name of a classic type of bento. I explained how a noriben is made here , as well as a little bit of the culture behind it. Basically, any bento consisting of layers of rice and nori seaweed is a noriben.
Back to the movie. I haven’t seen it yet of course, but I was a bit surprised that it got made into a movie at all. It’s based on a manga series from the late ’90s with the same title, which was serialized in Morning magazine for 3 years, but never actually came to a real conclusion. Despite that, it’s been made into a TV drama series too. It does have a sort of downtown, warm and fuzzy feel to it that appeals as a subject for “home” dramas and comedies.
Komaki is a 31 year old housewife, who decides to leave her no-good lazy husband and go back home to live with her mother, with her little kindergarten aged daughter Nonchan in tow. Komaki needs to find a job, but she has no skills to speak of - but she is a great home cook. One day, she eats some saba no miso ni (mackerel cooked in miso)  at a small restaurant called Totoya, and is totally inspired by how delicious it is. She begs the owner chef to let her work there. In the meantime, she makes delicious bentos for her daugther Nonchan to bring to kindergarten. Unlike the cute charaben her classmates bring, Nonchan’s bentos are pretty plain looking and traditional, but so delicious. Her favorite is noriben. Komaki finds inspiration for her ‘life work’ - to open a takeout bento store, to make people happy with delicious bentos. Will she fulfill her dream?
The food in the movie is as much of a star as any of the actors it seems. The food stylist who worked on the movie, Nami Iijima, is a bit of a celebrity in her own right in Japan; she’s worked on other food-centric movies such as Kamome Shokudo (Seagull Diner) , and has several popular cookbooks out. Here’s a segment from a Japanese talk show highlighting the role of the food in Nonchan Noriben. One interesting fact: Some of the dishes are explained in little animated segments inserted throughout this live-action movie. Also interesting I thought: The audition for the role of Nonchan was making the child actors eat a bento! The little girl who was eventually cast had, according to the director, a great appetite and loved to eat everything, and that’s why she got the role. There was a bad heat wave during filming, when many of the adults involved in the production got sick, but not the little actress who played Nonchan. She actually gained a little weight!
I thought it was rather interesting that the fact that Komaki makes ‘traditional’ bentos for Nonchan seems to be emphasized as a good thing. I’ve seen it mentioned on some Japanese sites that the plain noriben Komaki makes for Nonchan taste really good, as opposed to the cute charaben the other mothers make. (Watch around 0:57, where several typical kindergarten charabens are shown being opened, followed by a closeup of Nonchan’s plain-on-the-surface yet pretty sophisticated 6-layer noriben.) I’m not sure if this is just the director’s statement about how food should be, or if there is a growing belief that food should taste good first, and looking cute is not that important. Is there an anti-charaben movement in Japan?
Anyway, I can’t wait to see Nonchan Noriben. Unfortunately, this is the kind of warm-hearted little movie that rarely if ever makes it to a wide release, or any kind of release, outside of Japan (think Torasan ). It’s too normal or something I guess. So I will probably have to wait for the DVD to come out, or hope that it’s still in the theatres when I go to Japan in a couple of months. I’ll post a review of it once I have seen it.
(My best friend growing up in suburban Tokyo was called Nonchan, short for Noriko, and of course my name is Maki(ko), so the names Komaki and Nonchan make me smile. I wonder where my Nonchan is now…)
Since some people asked :)