Food provokes the buds on your tongue to water. It provokes the subtle twitching of your nose. But most rewardingly, food provokes your memories, especially the most nostalgic and seemingly abandoned ones. The film Café Seoul, directed by Takemasa Haru, replants the story of three brothers (Sang Woo, Sang Hyuk, and Sang Jin) and their family’s traditional Korean confectionary shop trampled among corporation gangsters, while a Japanese journalist attempts to write an article about the shop and ultimately becomes a part of the surrogate family and brotherhood. Café Seoul ultimately reveals food as an art of the senses that draws humanity back together.
One key idea from the film is the notion that food that has integrity is an art of the human senses.
In this first screenshot, Dong-choon, a past friend of the family and now an elite gangster, recalls the memory of the three brothers’ grandfather, his kindness, and the nostalgia of nurungji. Dong-choon watches and hears the sprinkling of the sugar intently, almost hypnotized by the image of such simplicity. As he takes a bite of the nurungji you can hear the crisp crunchiness of the scorched rice; you could even assume the smell, the subtle nutty scent of yellowed scorched rice. Sang Hyuk then pours hot water in a bowl of smaller pieces of nurungji, creating an aftermeal rice tea. After Dong-choon takes a sip of watered nurungji the atmosphere changes and the memory of the past is fully recovered. Dong-choon bows his head, then turns to the wall of old familiar photographs, and grieves regretfully. In this sense, food not only requires the participation of all the senses, it also serves as an everlasting beacon of light that tugs on the heartstrings of every human being. No matter how distant you drift from your origin, food is a dependable compass (or GPS) that faithfully draws you back to kinship and friendship.
A motif in the film is the use of parallel imagery to illustrate the opposing elements of humanity.
The first parallel is the similar situations between Jun and Sang Hyuk. Though Jun lost his family he hopes to keep Sang Hyuk’s family from falling apart. In these two screenshots both men (one Japanese, the other Korean) look deeply into their family photographs, which serve as reminders to keep living despite the hardships and the absence of family members.
Similarly, the screenshots above depict the relationship between food and family through the use of flashbacks. As stated above, the nostalgia of nurungji brings people back together because of the richness of the past and despite the conflicts of the present.
The film itself is a paradigm of modernized urbanism versus traditional ruralism and the people that struggle within such societies. Thus the last screenshots above show the opposing communities that live right next to one another. Through the medium of food—the traditional Korean sweets from shops like Morandang—the film is able to draw you back to the importance of human relationships and relegates the recognition of individual achievement.