A couple owns a cafe and inn in Hokkaido, set against the rolling hills and a lake to the side. The place is called Cafe Mani and there is an ongoing story loop about the moon. The story is narrated by a childlike voice and I thought at first that it’s the moon. But it’s not.
The film was actually shot on location in Hokkaido by the Lake Toya. And since this is a film with “pan” in the title, there’s a lot of baking and cooking (although not as much as I was expecting). The film looks like a pretty postcard and the soundtrack makes you feel like it’s a cool spring day and you’re chilling by the lakeside.
There are all sorts of characters that find themselves in the cafe through the four seasons of the year. Summer, a heartbroken girl from Tokyo who eventually hooks up with a friend of the couple. Fall, a lonely girl and her father struggling with separation from their mother/wife. Winter, an old couple who returns to the place where their relationship bloomed. Spring, tells the story of the couple and reveals the voice that we hear.
Mizushima, the baker, and Rei, his wife, came to Hokkaido two years ago. He’s from Sapporo and she’s from Tokyo. There’s an air of loneliness about her especially when the moon is around. They are surrounded by quirky neighbors: the farmer and his wife who supply them with organic vegetables and poultry, the mailman, the weird glassblower who looks more like a soothsayer and the elderly man with the large trunk who always has his coffee in the cafe every morning. They’re like the characters in a children’s book, complete with a cute sheep named Zoba.
The place is my version of utopia. Idyllic, pretty… although I do have a quibble about the bread because I’m not really a fan of the pan. In fact, the food that drew me in the film was the pumpkin soup. Oh and I love the clothes that Tomoyo Harada, as Rie, wears; very country chic.
All the characters find comfort and warmth in the cafe and somehow, when they leave it, they find that life is good (there must be something in the bread).
Some trivia: Mizushima is played by Oizumi Yo, who is from Hokkaido himself. He will be familiar to Japanese drama fans as the senior detective in Lucky Seven who always gets in between the characters of MatsuJun and Eita.
There are other familiar faces too like Hiraoka Yuta, who plays the couple’s friend who works at a railway and eventually hooks up with Heartbroken Tokyo Girl. There is also Honda Riki who was in Summertime Machine Blues (one of my fave movies when I just want to laugh).
One thing is for sure, Bread of Happiness or Shiawase no Pan is more watchable than Taiwan’s Soul of Bread (maybe it’s just me but Anthony Neely was a pain to watch).
Of course it’s a happy ending… and the voice at the end reveals that it’s Mizushima and Rei’s little bun in the oven.
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