Food offers a corridor to simpler times in Cafe Seoul, a short drama directed by Masaharu Take. Cafe Seoul (2009) is the story of a small pastry shop, Moran-dang, and its struggle to survive in the modern era of consumerism. The film opens with a young writer, Jun, discovering this cafe by stumbling (literally) into it’s owner. During his frequent visits, he learns the tragic back-story behind the store. Moran-dang had been in the Sang family for many generations, and three brothers were left to inherit it. Of the three brothers, one went into business, and one went to pursue his dream as a musician, leaving the last brother, Sang-woo, to run the shop by himself. Sang-woo struggles to pay off a group of real-estate developing gangsters, who require the land on which Moran-dang is built in order to finish piece of modern property. Throughout the film, the sentimental and nostalgic taste of fresh pastries brings characters back to their childhood, and ultimately, back to Moran-dang.
Cafe Seoul is about Eastern simplicity compared the bustling of the Western modern era, and every character in this film manages to find some connection to their childhood through the pastries from Moran-dang. Each of the main characters has some desire, and their drive to achieve that goal keeps them from noticing what they have forgotten behind. For Sang-Hyuk, rock music has caused him to lose his family and friends. For Sang-Jin, his goal of creating a business brings him into debt with the gangsters. For Jun, we can see the contrast of the business, deadline oriented philosophy that he responds to in westernized Japan to the simple, pastry cooking life that he has lost and is looking to regain.
In the climatic scene of the film, we see how food can induce memory, and how the pastries from Moran-dang can remind people of the beauty in simplicity, and the hope for innocence. Towards the end of the film, Sang-Woo and his brother, Sang-Hyuk must win a cooking competition against their third brother, Sang-Jin who has forgotten his family and strives to create a pastry-shop empire. The competition is judged by the head of the real-estate developing gangsters, whose love of money and need to create a more modern society have caused him (and the third brother) to lose sight of what is important in life- their friends, family and memory. Sang-Jin’s dishes are impressive, elaborate, complicated, and notably western. They characterize the modern era- a period where our desire to pursue our goals or to consume blinds us to what may be simple and innocent yet essential. The dishes that Moran-Dang displays are characterized by exactly these qualities. It is the most simple dish that wins the competition. Nurunji (a fried pastry) manages to bring the Don back to his childhood, and makes him remember the kindness that was shown to him by the Sang family. The simple taste of the nurunji, and it’s presentation, harken to a easier time, and convince him to show kindness to Moran-dang. The three brothers eat the treat together, and realize that they are family once more.