Memories. Family love. Friendship. Such are the elements that constitute the role of food in Takemasa Haru’s Café Seoul. Café Seoul introduces to us of how a Japanese journalist, Isaka Jun who is in search of a story to write, stumbles upon a traditional Korean confectionary shop named Morandang. Jun acknowledges Morandang as a significant family-run business that not only preserves the traditional craftsmanship and delicate procedures of preparation but also beholds the precious memories of the past. He then decides to help Sang Woo to be reunited with Sang Hyuk in attempt to save Morandang from being taken over by the mafias for urban development. The conflict is resolved in the end through a competition between Sang Hyuk and Sang Jin, the other ambitious brother who wants to develop Morandang as his own brand name with the support from the mafias.
Through food, friendship is manifested in this film as one that goes beyond the boundaries of nations, cultures, and identities.
Overcoming even language barriers, Sang Woo slowly embraces Jun after a heartwarming moment of mutual understanding. Upon noticing the display of family portraits around Morandang, Jun shows Sang Woo a photograph of his family and comparing the two, Jun tells him that they are the same. The camera then reveals a close up of Sang Woo’s expression as he looks up to Jun, giving him a thoughtful smile of understanding. Food in this context serves as a link that forms the friendship between Jun and Sang Woo, as both associate their respective confectionery shops to the love they have for their families. This is also reflected through the relationship between Sang Hyuk and Jun as they effortlessly bond over kneading the dough despite the unpleasant encounters they have had with each other previously. In a way, Jun eventually becomes a part of the family, finding a home within Morandang. It is evident to see that food rekindles kinship and develops friendship amidst the characters in Café Seoul.
Takemasa employs effective cinematography techniques in the form of flashbacks to emphasize the nostalgic attributes that the traditional sweets served in Morandang presents to its customers. Madam Young who is a frequent customer in the shop recalls her fond memories of eating Roasted Mochi with Green Tea over the past years living in the neighborhood. The mafia that comes into the shop regularly relates his experience of eating Konsorugi to his childhood days through a flashback reiterating how Sang Woo’s father would give him little pieces of sweets whenever he tried to hide in the kitchen from his mother. In the final round of the competition, Sang Hyuk’s Nurungji triggers a flashback of Don Chun’s reminiscence of the kindness that was showed to him by Sang Woo’s grandfather when he was a child.
Nurungji, in all its simplicity, is able to stir a poignant memory within everyone who has tasted it. The three brothers savor Nurungji together in unison (the scene is overlapped with a flashback showing us a younger version of the three doing the same), recognize the familiar taste of their father’s love for Morandang and realize that they are family once again.
At the end of the film, we are dawned with the realization that food is not merely just a form of daily nourishment for our bodies; it also what helps foster our relationships by strengthening the bond we have with other people. Food is what drives Jun in his passion as a journalist in the food magazine. Food is what leads him to meet Sang Woo and his confectionery bakery by a twist of fate. It is food that draws Sang Hyuk back to the shop, rekindles his kinship with his brothers, and gives him a purpose of living after having his dreams to pursue music shattered due to his sudden deafness. It is also food that reminds us about love, nostalgia and kindness. Food indeed, as portrayed succinctly by Takemasa in Café Seoul, is what truly tugs at our heartstrings, bringing people together against all odds.