On Eisuke and Chie
I see Eisuke as a very internalized character. It’s not so much that he keeps his emotions and thoughts to himself as he doesn’t communicate them properly. No matter what he’s feeling, it always comes out as anger or annoyance, and it always comes out in bursts. He has this habit of talking to himself, of drifting off in a conversation with someone into his own anxieties, leaving the person he’s talking to in confusion. For example, in episode 3, when he visits a sick Chie to bring her some gruel, she asks him how the restaurant has been doing and he responds by telling her that he can’t smile. This is a total non sequitur. He does technically answer her question, but he provides no context for his statement, and when she says, “Huh?” he just brushes over it. And again in episode 5, he stands in front of the audience of children he’s been teaching about food, trying to explain to them that no, they can’t have a cooking class everyday, but they can choose their food carefully, and he lapses into a remark about how life has pains and pleasures, and you have to use the pains for creative fuel. He’s addressing his own mechanism for dealing with his break up with Maria, not the children before him. He’s perpetually focused on himself and his own problems, wrapped up in his own world, which I think is why he’s so unable to understand other people and their emotions–he’s barely able to understand his own. When Chie tells him what Maria might have meant by wanting to go on a break–“Maybe she doesn’t need you right now”– she immediately recognizes that she might have hurt him, and she apologizes, but Eisuke insists that no, he’s not hurt. Most of the time this characteristic would make someone selfish or narcissistic, but strangely enough, I don’t see those in Eisuke. He can be callous, he’s tactless and oblivious to the intricacies of navigating a romantic relationship, but he isn’t selfish: his cooking keeps him from being so. Cooking and food connect him to other people, they’re the cord that keep him tied to the harbor.
Eisuke’s best qualities lie in his cooking, both in terms of his talent and technical skill and the emotional bonds he forms with others through his cooking, which is why that was what Chie fell in love with first. Eisuke grumbles and sneers and curses and fights, but when it comes to food he’s generous, patient, and considerate. He forgets Chie’s name, shoos her away, calls her names, but he cooks for her and feeds her, saves leftovers for her, appreciates her ability to thoroughly enjoy food, and gets a sense of reward whenever she praises his cooking. It’s reflected in this episode’s plot: when his former manger’s son refuses to eat his food he calls him a piglet. He picks on a kid for being fat. I mean, what is that??? But then, Chikako, one of his employees, shows him how good the kid is, not complaining and understanding that his mother has to work all the time. It takes someone else for him to recognize the emotional world of this child who’s in his care, but once he does, he uses food to connect with him, teaching him about food and even sharing a memory from his own childhood with him. It’s almost like what he can’t say to someone he can cook to someone, if that makes any sense. He communicates better through food than through words. The narrative drives this home in episode 4, when Tokio Aso, the antagonist of the show, eats something he cooks and is reminded of his childhood. Eisuke’s cooking is so good it elicits powerful emotional reactions from the people who eat it.
Chie is completely different. She doesn’t need a medium through which to translate her emotions because she tells people exactly what she’s feeling. When she’s pleased with the food she’s eating she smiles and exclaims how good it tastes; when Eisuke calls her a brat she cries; when she first meets him and he’s rude to her she has no problem calling him out. That’s why when she goes to implement “Operation Valentine’s” it totally fails and she ends up confessing instead. It’s like she’s so used to being honest and forthright that when it comes time for her to use her feminine wiles it just does not compute. Chie is very self reflective, always analyzing how she feels, wondering why she feels the way she does and what she should do once she’s clear about her emotions. She’s also very aware of other people’s feelings, immediately seeing that Eisuke is hurt from her explanation of Maria’s words, and wondering if it would be ethical for her to make a move on Eisuke when his relationship with Maria is having problems. While Chie interrogates herself and her feelings, Eisuke tries to figure out what other people mean and rejects his feelings altogether.
On Chie and Maria
I enjoy the progression of the romance in this series. Mostly I enjoy that there isn’t an angst-filled triangle. We have three people who are revolving around one another, but it’s just that: revolving. No standing face-to-to, fighting over someone, no rivalries. Maria is more mature than Chie, no doubt, and her relationship with Eisuke reflects that. They are an adult couple: they have their own apartment, their professional jobs, and they have friends who are contemplating marriage. Even Chie can see that in the way they interact with one another, and she marvels at it. It’s here that I realize that Eisuke is 30 years old, and Chie just 20. That’s a pretty large age gap. Even so, I find Eisuke pretty childish in his emotional depth, and Chie, even with her sudden exclamations and well of tears, much more mature.
Both women have problems with Eisuke, but they’re totally different, and I think that’s reflective of the age difference. Maria is thinking about their future. She goes to a meeting with women who are married to men in the food business, hearing their woes of how their husbands don’t get paid well and never have enough time for family life. Eisuke is changing before Maria’s eyes: they don’t have kids but already he has close to no time for her, he has very little money, and the restaurant is taking a physical toll on his body–he’s always tired and his hands are scratched and scuffed. Now, I don’t now much about music, but I do know that when you play the guitar a lot you get calluses. I see Maria’s focus on Eisuke’s hands being beat up as something of a metaphor: his hands represent the two Eisukes, the old and the new. She’s in love with the old Eisuke, the one who had dreams of becoming a rock star. Meanwhile, Chie is in love with the new Eisuke, the one who is struggling with a new restaurant, who cares more about homard lobsters than girls. So this isn’t really about an OTP, about who you are meant to be with, your epic love writ in stone for posterity; it’s more about choosing to be with someone who suits who you are trying and want to be, choosing the person who wants you as you are.
On Tokio Aso
Tokio Aso. This guy is hilarious. Not intentionally so: the narrative treats him pretty seriously and sees him as a real threat to Eisuke, but I just don’t. The thing is, Eisuke is so wrapped up in his own problems, so concerned with just keeping his restaurant afloat, that Tokio remains at best on the periphery of his mind. But Tokio is obsessed with Eisuke: he researches him, looking him up online and asking his chefs about him. He continually inserts himself into Eisuke’s life, making himself an enemy when there really isn’t any need for him to be. To Eisuke, he’s just another annoyance, not really someone he’s actively fighting. I think this guy is going to be the agent of his own destruction. Even without directly engaging with him Eiuske is beating him. For example, in this episode both men address nutrition and health. Tokio turns it into a business, writing a book that sells well and beginning a program that ropes parents in so that he can make a hefty profit off of them. Eiuske and his team, meanwhile, go the opposite route, creating community by inviting the mothers and their children to the restaurant to have a food making workshop. It actually reminded me of the stuff that Jamie Oliver did on his reality television show. It occurs to me that Tokio isn’t even really fighting Eisuke, he’s fighting his 12 year old self. Maybe somewhere under his steely determination he’s a litle sick with his morals and tactics.