Greetings again from the darkness. No matter your country of origin, drinking in a social setting inspires a unifying call for the group. We Americans proudly bellow “Cheers”. In Spanish, it’s “Salud”, while the Germans say “Prost” and the French “Santé”. You might have guessed from the title of this documentary … the Japanese say “Kampai!” as they toast their cohorts and raise a glass of Sake, also known as Japanese rice wine.
Filmmaker Mirai Konishi promises a look at the fascinating and somewhat mysterious world of brewing sake. His approach is to gain insight from three different individuals who hail from quite disparate backgrounds and are now fully immersed in all things Sake. John Gauntner is a U.S. born writer/educator/researcher whose publications are world renowned as the best available on the subject. Philip Harper is a British gent who is Oxford educated and the first non-Japanese master Sake brewer (Toji). He spends roughly 60% of a year in a dark, dank environment perfecting his own label of the drink. Kosuke Kuji runs an inherited century old Japanese Sake brewery that has been in his family for multiple generations.
We are informed that Sake is the national beverage of Japan and has been around for many centuries, creating historical and cultural significance. Unfortunately, the film offers little historical perspective, so we don’t learn how and why Sake became so ingrained in the fabric of Japan. Instead we focus mostly on the three fellows noted above and how their passions and commitment to Sake helped drive not just their own interests, but that of the industry. One other segment offers a glimpse inside the North Carolina based brewery looking to capitalize on the growing Sake trend. Unfortunately, per numerous reports, Blue Kudza went out of business shortly after this segment was filmed.
A cursory description of the process – gathering ingredients, preparation, fermenting, tasting, etc is interesting enough, and the personal stories add enough heft that we don’t realize the missing historical perspective until the movie ends. We are left anticipating a Sake tasting party, yet no more educated on the true significance of the chilled, warmed or room temperature beverage (it can be served all three ways) being hoisted as the patrons exclaim “Kampai!” and the screen fades to black.