So slight it’s almost transparent, “Sukiyaki” has a quiet charm but not much more. A light drama centered on a restaurant-owning family, this first indie pic by 43-year-old helmer Junichi Suzuki, who has earned his stripes in the commercial industry the past 14 years (and was a co-exec producer on Alexandre Rockwell’s “In the Soup” during a New York stay), faces a tough battle to eat its way into overseas markets.
The Mihara family has a Yokohama joint called the Boston Grill Restaurant, and in leisurely fashion we meet father Ryohei, twin sisters Rika (a post office worker) and Yuka (a waitress), plus a grandmother who’s losing her marbles and keeps wandering off. Into this group walks Tatsuya, a sailor, who starts by insulting the food and ends up as a cook.
Tatsuya turns out to be an unreliable employee who’s more interested in getting it on with as many women as possible. As a substitute, he sends along his nerdy friend Shinichi, also a ship’s cook, who starts dating Yuka, revealed as an epileptic. Meanwhile, Rika is making such little progress with boring b.f. Kono that she sends along her twin on a date to find out if Kono really loves her. Ending is almost as casual as the opening, with Shinichi finally proposing to Yuka, plus a mild surprise re grandma.
Suzuki wrote the script with the real-life twins in mind, and he’s served by good performances from both of them and the rest of the handpicked cast. But observational pics like thisdemand either a gossamer-light touch with captivating dialogue (a la Eric Rohmer) or a sustained, offbeat style to maintain interest. Both are only fleetingly apparent in “Sukiyaki,” and after the opening reels the pic starts to pay reduced dividends for the attentiveness demanded of its audience. Technical credits on the movie, which had a tiny release in Japan in summer ’95, are modest but OK.