Kodoku no Gurume, episodes 1-7
- On a whim, I ordered a Goro Inogashira figma. I knew nothing about the character, but the idea of an action figure in a salaryman suit with a bowl of rice and a pair of chopsticks was just too good to pass up. It arrived last week and it is even better than I’d hoped. It’s ridiculous and brings a smile to my face. So that prompted me to look up who he is, and the description of the “story”, Kodoku no Gurume (The Solitary Gourmand), was perfect: a middle-aged dry goods importer visits small restaurants where he eats alone and doesn’t say very much.
- I like eating alone. It’s one of life’s great pleasures. (In fact, I’m typing this while I sit alone at a Korean restaurant eating fried chicken and drinking beer.) There is a weird stigma associated with solo meals; a lot of people seem to be afraid to be alone in public, as if it was a marker of social failure. Bullshit. Enjoying your own company is really important, and taking the time to enjoy a meal and your own thoughts for a while is wonderful. Goro relishes this time to himself, and the show shares his internal monologue while he eats so that we can vicariously experience his pleasure.
- Goro eats a lot. He usually orders two dishes, plus rice. In one episode, he decides to go to a tonkatsu restaurant, so he orders both fried chicken and fried pork — and then when he sees someone order ginger pork, he decides to order a second meal, plus an extra bowl of rice. I love him. (I have no idea how he stays rake thin, though, given that he gorges himself every meal.)
- At one point he drops in to visit an old friend, a mentor really, who got him into the import business. He is surprised to discover that his friend is now a trans woman. I was seriously worried when this was revealed — Japan’s gender politics are still fairly reactionary, and I thought a show about a salaryman based on a 20-year-old manga would be a trainwreck. I was pleasantly surprised to see Goro treat his friend warmly, and to present a clear “live and let live” message at the end of the show. I’m not going to suggest the portrayal of a trans character was ideal, but the show is clearly pushing against the stifling conservatism of Japanese society.
- The real joy of the show is that Goro approaches Tokyo neighbourhoods as a tourist would — it’s as much a Tokyo travel show as it is about food, and they even show a map so viewers can visit. The premise of each episode is a business meeting with a client here or there, after which he wanders around to find something to eat. He prefers small, family-run restaurants, so he is showing a side of Tokyo you certainly wouldn’t find in a guidebook. After the credits roll, each episode concludes with a short clip of the manga’ author, Qusumi, visiting the same restaurant and eating a meal. His genuine pleasure at sharing these little gem restaurants is evident in his broad smile. Next time I visit Tokyo I’m going to bring a list of these restaurants with me.