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How to Navigate Netflix’s ‘Samurai Gourmet’

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Everything you need to know about the new food comedy

All photos via Netflix

As part of its quest to offer more original programming in more markets all around the globe, Netflix recently released a new Japanese-language fictional series called Samurai Gourmet, which focuses primarily on the experience of eating and drinking at restaurants. It’s an interesting show with sumptuous food footage — but is Samurai Gourmet worthy of your precious binge-watching time? Here are some questions and answers to help you decide if this quirky Netflix original series is right for you:

What is this show all about?

Samurai Gourmet follows the culinary adventures of a 60-year-old recent retiree named Takeshi Kasumi. An avid fan of samurai comics, Kasumi often envisions how an ancient warrior would navigate tricky situations in his own life. Once per episode, Kasumi’s world briefly turns into a samurai story — usually when he’s in the middle of a meal. The protagonist sometimes eats with his wife, but most of his dining expeditions are solo affairs.

The show is inspired by an essay and manga series from Japanese author Masayuki Kusumi. This material was also the inspiration for another, somewhat similar Japanese television program called Kodoku no Gourmet, which focuses on a younger businessman character eating his way through Japan.

A show about a retired guy eating and daydreaming — that sounds boring. Is it boring?

Good question. Samurai Gourmet is not boring. The stakes are fairly low, but it moves along at a good clip, and every episode is full of moments that are sweet and funny. Even during the slowest passages of this show, the actor who plays Kasumi always gives you a reason to watch — he’s kind of like a silent film star, who tells the story with his face.

Who is this actor? Have I seen him in something else before?

Takeshi Kasumi is played by Naoto Takenaka, a veteran film and TV star who has been in dozens of Japanese films over the last four decades. American audiences might remember him from the 1997 film Shall We Dance?, which was a modest hit in the states. His sword-wielding counterpart is played by Tetsuji Tamayama, a model-turned-actor who has appeared in a few samurai films before.

If I’m not obsessed with samurai stuff and Japanese food, will I dig this show?

It’s definitely a BUY for anyone who loves Japanese food. But it’s also worth checking out if you’re someone who’s interested in the way that food is depicted on film. Samurai Gourmet makes some very strong choices with its narrative storytelling. Most remarkable, perhaps, is the effortless way that the show depicts the internal dialogue that runs through your head when you’re locked into a really amazing meal. After watching this series, you may be inclined to pay a solo visit to a sushi den or yakitori parlor so that you can enjoy the food and beer in solitary splendor like Kasumi. In several episodes, the program also explores the connection between food and memory in a way that is unexpectedly moving.

How much samurai stuff is in this show?

Not very much, actually. Like Wilson on Home Improvement, the samurai appears once per episode to help the protagonist solve a problem near the end of the show.

How many episodes do I need to watch to know if this show is for me?

One. It’s an episodic program, and most installments follow the same rough format — Kasumi has a an errand to run, and he ends up diverting himself with a meal. Every plot line wraps up by the end of the 20-minute running time, so you don’t have to watch these in any particular order. The 12 episodes are named after the meals that Kasumi eats, so you can pick your favorites from the list, and start from there.

Okay, but if I just want to watch a few episodes, which are the best ones?

“Mackerel in the Morning”: After missing a train back home from a small town where he was playing a board game with a friend, Kasumi crashes at a small bed and breakfast near the sea. The morning meal of broiled mackerel, soup, seaweed, rice, and pickles reminds him of visiting an inn as a teenager with his friends, when he felt like an adult for the first time. This is one of the quietest, prettiest episodes of the show.

“Yakiniku Her Way”: Kasumi takes his adult niece out to a Japanese barbecue restaurant to offer her some career advice. Over the course of the meal, they discuss the reasons why you should and should not pursue a job, and he remembers the time his first boss took him to that very same restaurant, to convince him to stay on his career path. A lot of Samurai Gourmet episodes are about Kasumi’s solo quests, but this is an installment where he’s focusing his energy on helping someone else.

“Umbrellas at the Diner Counter”: After receiving a clean bill of health from the doctor, Kasumi decides to treat himself to an izakaya lunch, where he reflects on how he lost the wild confidence he had in his 20s. Toward the end of the meal, rain starts leaking through the roof of the cramped restaurant, and the chef hands everyone umbrellas.

Are there any episodes worth skipping?

Yup. You really don’t need to watch the second episode, “The Demoness’s Ramen,” for a few reasons, the biggest being that it features an unfortunate plot line wherein Kasumi is intimidated by a brusk server at a Chinese restaurant who he thinks looks like “the matron of a bar on the outskirts of town.” This is intended to be a comedic scenario — i.e. the neurotic, shy gourmand is intimidated by a non-nonsense waitress — but it feels a little cruel. The other reason to skip this installment is that it’s the only episode where Kasumi doesn’t like the food. The whole episode is a misstep.

What is that smooth AF ending credits song?

It’s called “Shiroi Suna No Saboten,” and believe it or not, the lyrics were written and performed by Naoto Takenaka, the actor who plays Kasumi.

What could be improved for Season 2, if Netflix decides to make it?

Kasumi’s wife, played by Honami Suzuki, should become a main character, and not just someone who he sees at the beginning and end of his journeys (she doesn’t even have a first name in the show). In the last two episodes, “Anniversary Oden” and “A Memory of Hashed Beef and Rice,” it’s refreshing to see Kasumi thinking about his wife’s happiness, instead of merely his own, and it’s clear that like her husband, Ms. Kasumi is a very savvy diner.

The season finale has a poignant scene wherein Kasumi realizes that he and his wife were regulars at the same restaurant at the same time before they ever met each other. If Netflix does make a Season 2, it would be great to see more of the Samurai Gourmet and his culinary soul mate tackling the wooly world of dining together.

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