Bread of Happiness: Filmart Review

"Bread of Happiness"
Japanese fable about finding happiness has a quiet charm for young and family audiences

Visitors find comfort in a Japanese country-side bakery in this filmd directed by Yukiko Mishima

Feel-good family fare as simple and genuine as the bread the young Japanese heroine and her husband bake at their remote roadside café, Bread of Happiness squeaks past the banality of its childish music and guileless sentiments to address serious issues like heart-break, a broken home, a childless marriage and even encroaching death in terms children can understand without being afraid. Writer/director Yukiko Mishima, who comes from television work, has the delicate touch of a Japanese painter working humbly on the details.  It’s about as far from her erotically edged debut feature The Tattoer as you can get. Enshrined in its own modesty, the film is too heavily influenced by TV to be modern-looking or exciting, yet its calm aesthetics might work for the young teen demographic, girls in particular.

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A polite young couple, have fixed up an idyllic sort of Whistle Stop Cafè in a remote corner of rural Japan, joyfully serve up freshly baked bread and ground coffee to the mailman, a local glassblower and anyone else who stops by. There are rooms upstairs if guests want to rest.  An unseen child narrator explains how Rie (Tomoyo Harada) has given up on her dream of meeting her soulmate and accepted this uncomplicated life in the country with her young baker husband (Yo Oizumi.)

Over the course of the film, they act like wise guardian angels to the unhappy visitors who are drawn to their café.  The first is a shopgirl from Tokyo who’s been dumped by her boyfriend; the second, a poor little rich girl whose mother has left her father for another man. The last story deals with an elderly couple who have come there to die. In every case, homemade food prepared with love is the catalyst for turning things around in a positive way.

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Mishima’s screenplay adopts a wise air as it pares life’s dramas down to basics and shows them for the hollow problems they really are. On the other hand, for anyone beyond their early teens, the dialogue is larded with cringe-worthy platitudes: “companion” means those who share bread; one should keep changing to the end; fairies give people what they harvest – happiness; you have to struggle and embarrass youself if you want to me happy, and so on.

Actors are relaxed in bringing the humorously amiable characters to life. Ryu Segawa’s airy cinematography can look over-lit, though it makes the most of the breathtaking backdrop of mountains rolling into a still lake. 

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart, March 21, 2012

Production companies: At Movie
Cast: Tomoyo Harada, Yo Oizumi, Ken Mitsuishi
Director: Yukiko Mishima
Screenwriter: Yukiko Mishima
Producers: Yu Moriya, Kazuhiko Yusa, Yasuyuki Iwanami
Executive producer: Takeshi Moriya
Director of photography: Ryu Segawa
Production designer: Shizuka Inoue
Costumes: Masae Miyamoto
Editor: Hitomi Kato
Music: Goro Yasukawa
Sales Agent: Asmik Ace Entertainment
No rating, 114 minutes