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'Takano Tofu': How Mitsuhiro Mihara Won Hearts in Italy

Mihara's award-winning film "Takano Tofu" explores the universal theme of the transforming power of human connections through the tale of a stubborn tofu maker.



Director Mitsuhiro Mihara wins Far East Film Festival's First Prize in Udine. (©2024 Riccardo Modema)

This was a successful 26th edition of the Far East Film Festival for Japanese cinema. The FEFF's audience and jury were captivated by the astounding stories of the films in the competition. Film director Mitsuhiro Mihara particularly stood out with the heart-warming Takano Tofu, which took the First Prize.

Takano Tofu, a story centered on tofu-making, was the most-watched film on MyMovies, the FEFF's streaming platform. Gaining 624 hours of views, it won the Purple Mulberry Award. But the success of this family drama starring Tatsuya Fuji and Kumiko Aso didn't stop online. It achieved the coveted FEFF's First Prize.

Still from "Takano Tofu" by Director Mitsuhiro Mihara. (©Mitsuhiro Mihara)

Udine's public was mesmerized by the traditional settings and tender relationships featured in many Japanese stories. Besides Mihara's love letter to tofu making, many folkloric-oriented films garnered attention. Naoya Fujita's coming-of-age drama Confetti came second thanks to a contemporary homage to traditional theater. Lastly, the Black Dragon Critics Award saw the success of Bushido, a period samurai film by Kazuya Shiraishi.

Mitsuhiro Mihara's Trilogy

Set in Onomichi (Hiroshima prefecture), the film tells the story of Tatsuo (Tatsuya Fuji), head of a tofu-making family business. A traditional man, he keeps his recipes a secret and mistrusts change. But his convictions collapse when he receives concerning health news. Worried about his business and daughter Haru (Kumiko Aso), Tatsuo eventually learns to open up and let things flow.

Takano Tofu gives room to tenderness and subtle jokes. However, it shares elements with Mihara's previous works, although with a new approach. 

Still from "Takano Tofu" by Director Mitsuhiro Mihara. (©Mitsuhiro Mihara)

The story follows Village Photobook (2004) and Flavor of Happiness (2008). All three share a protagonist with a specific cultural mindset: "There is a term I really like in Japanese called isshi ichido. It could translate to one intention, one road. In these films, I always put this protagonist at the center who has a profession that he continues to perfect."

Furthermore, all features show Tatsuya Fuji as the main lead. Mihara explains: "Besides this movie and Village Photobook, we worked on Flavor of Happiness, which also dealt with the world of cooking." 

Fuji seems to have a talent for portraying grumpy but lovable men: "It is part of a trilogy that I specifically wanted to do with him. He is featured in all three stories because I find him a suitable actor for the role."

A Homage to Japanese Cinema

Many have associated Mihara's feature with the works of Yasujiro Ozu because of its heart-warming directing style. Furthermore, Takano Tofu shares the same locations as Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953). In some way, it did homage to the renowned director. However, as Mihara explained, his inspiration came from Ozu's film distribution company, Shochiku.


Still one of the most influential establishments in the national entertainment industry, Shochiku reached its peak thanks to Ozu. 

Growing up during this prominent era, the director loved watching their productions. They portrayed stories of families and ordinary people that would make viewers laugh, cry, and be comforted at the same time.

As in his works of influence, he wanted to bring back these protagonists to light, although distinctively and originally. Thus, his feature doesn't solely find inspiration in a single auteur but in the narrations of a decade. As they warmed his heart growing up, Mihara eagerly shared the same feeling with Takano Tofu.

Family First

Like Shochiku directors, Mihara could not but revolve its story around family themes. In this case, there's particular attention to the relationship between Haru and Tatsuo. 

Although not biologically related, she's not any less his daughter. "I wanted to tell whether or not there is an influence on the construction of such a relationship within families," Mihara explains. "I definitely wanted to accentuate the concept of blood bond, to understand whether it validates the connection between father and daughter."

Still from "Takano Tofu" by Director Mitsuhiro Mihara. (©Mitsuhiro Mihara)

Whether friends or new acquaintances, Takano Tofu shows a sense of community and mutual care beyond blood. One day, at the hospital, Tatsuo meets Fumie (Kumi Nakamura), who suffers from the same health condition. They eventually find solace in each other. Mihara calls their relationship "typically Japanese," as it fits the term cha-nomi-tomodachi, meaning "friends that you drink tea with." 

At a certain age, one is content to have someone to spend time with, whether drinking tea or coffee. "I wanted to portray this kind of friendship," he explains.

Keeping the Memory of the Hiroshima Bombing Alive

In contrast to many Japanese films that make it to the West, we don't get immersed in famous sceneries such as skylines or temples. This feature drags us into the quiet streets of Onomichi, involving us in the everyday life of the local neighborhood. "This is also a way to give respect to the location where Ozu filmed," Mihara explains.

But there's an ulterior and more specific motive behind this choice, as he adds: "For me to shoot in Hiroshima was important because, in my heart, I always felt the need to propose the theme of the atomic bomb as well." 


To this day, this terrible and disastrous event still affects Japan, and Mihara wanted to convey a story that could help people not to forget. 

"It's not just about the relationship between tradition and modernity. I wanted to bring to mind the legacy of a place where the bomb was dropped," as he explains. "Aside from this [relationship], I wanted to make the audience remember the generational trauma it caused."

Still from "Takano Tofu" by Director Mitsuhiro Mihara. (©Mitsuhiro Mihara)

A Perfect Portrayal of Change

Although a stubborn and secretive man, Tatsuo learns to open up thanks to those he meets. Tatsuya Fuji seems the perfect man to portray this trope: "Thanks to him, I think I was able to describe this protagonist very well."

Bringing the film's casting back into discussion, he adds: "First as a photographer, then as a cook, and here as a tofu maker, or artisan, as I call him. In my opinion, Fuji is the best person to play these roles. Through him, I can describe the Japanese family and concretize the film I want to make."

Initially, Tatsuo wants to avoid dealing with the foreign or the unexpected. However, the more he communicates with longtime friends and acquaintances, the more the walls around him break down. Since the dawn of time, human connection has helped social and individual transformation. As Mihara emphasizes: "I believe I was able to describe this kind of change because we men have to change along with society. It's inevitable."

Takano Tofu tackles diverse and universal subjects, such as keeping our history alive and the importance of community besides differences. Combining the folkloric element with a poetic approach to human complexities, it's no surprise that the feature won over the hearts of many.


Author: Federica Giampaolo

Federica Giampaolo attended the 26th Far East Film Festival as part of the FEFF Campus for aspiring critics, writers, and film industry professionals.