Home > Film > Pâtisserie Coin de Rue or My Pâtisserie or Yougashiten Koandoru (2011)

Pâtisserie Coin de Rue or My Pâtisserie or Yougashiten Koandoru (2011)

The book I’ve just finished debates what, if anything, motivates us. It could simply be habit to continue existing or, more practically, to earn a living. The answer the author offers is that, at best, we’re selfish creatures and mostly driven by sins like pride or envy, i.e. we work because we want to show off our skills, we earn money because we can then buy the material things we covet. It was therefore something of a surprise to see the same questions debated in the new Japanese romantic comedy Pâtisserie Coin de Rue or My Pâtisserie or Yougashiten Koandoru.

 

Meet Natsume (Yû Aoi), who arrives in Tokyo from Kagoshima as a fish out of water. Her strong accent makes her difficult to understand and she’s generally less than couth. Such is the burden for any provincial who has the temerity to visit the capital where everyone considers themselves “sophisticated” and patronises newcomers. She’s actually been dumped by her boyfriend. He had grown tired of her dominating ways and decided to seek his fortune in Tokyo, getting a job at the titular Patisserie Coin de Rue. His ambition was to become a better baker of cakes than Natsume. He left her a “dear John” note which she carefully parsed to mean he was leaving temporarily and would be back to marry her — a promise given in the school playground when they were somewhat younger. When he failed to reappear, she made her way to the Pâtisserie Coin de Rue to collect him. Unfortunately, he’s moved on to places unknown.

Yu Aoi as Natsume growing more confident in her new role as a sous chef

 

Now stranded in Tokyo with no obvious way of finding her boyfriend, she begs for a job. She looks around, sees pâtisseries and, in all innocence, announces herself a maker of cakes. Prepared to give her a chance, the owner chef, the other staff and a customer called Tomura (Yôsuke Eguchi) watch her and then taste the end-product. They are unanimous. It’s terrible. As a parting gift, the chef offers her one of the pâtisseries from the display. This is a revelation to our country bumpkin. She had not imagined food could taste this good. She immediately demands they teach her.

 

So here’s that question again. Natsume is diffident but actually quite proud of her cake-making ability. When told she cannot bake to save her life, she reacts by demanding they teach her to be better. She’s prepared to start again to learn the difference between being a kitchen cook and a chef de pâtisserie — the classy way of describing a professional pastry chef. Fully expecting her to give up and go home, the chef gives her a sofa to sleep on and a chance to learn. For the first two or three days, this proves expensive as she fails to prevent pans from boiling over and forgets to grease the tins so the madeleines stick. But she spends hours secretly practising and, despite the fact this runs down the shop’s stock, she begins to show signs of progress. After a week, they can trust her to do simple things.

Yosuke Eguchi as Tomura still inconsolable in his loss

 

When she discovers that Mariko (Noriko Eguchi), the other young woman working in the shop knows where her boyfriend can be found, there’s a short sharp argument and Natsume walks out to reclaim her man. Unfortunately, he doesn’t want to be reclaimed. He has another girlfriend and is happier without Natsume telling him he’s a failure. Now she has a decision to make. Will she say she has nothing to keep her in Tokyo and go home? The answer is found in an alcoholic haze. She returns to the pâtisserie as if nothing has happened and, after a hungover apology to her fellow workers in the morning, she’s back learning her new “trade”. Motives are always complicated things to explain to yourself and others.

 

Meanwhile, we quietly learn about Tomura. He was considered one of the truly great chefs de pâtisserie but, eight years ago, there was a tragic accident. Because he forgot to collect his daughter from the school bus, she walked to his workplace, and was knocked down and killed while crossing the road. He’s unable to forgive himself and has never worked full-time again, spending his time writing guide books, teaching badly, and reviewing restaurants and pâtisseries.

 

When the chef of Pâtisserie Coin de Rue breaks her arm, she decides to close the shop. There’s no-one else who can make beautiful pastries so, rather than disappoint her customers, it’s better to shut until she’s recovered. This means sacrificing a major opportunity to cook for visiting royalty. Now energised, Natsume is out to save the day. In the process, she proves that a no-nonsense, if not aggressive, attitude can get things done. Except, of course, there’s actually a caring person lurking underneath the relatively unsophisticated exterior and, while she might not have made any friends, she has at least earned some respect.

 

Frankly, this film is a visual delight, every bit as tasty as the “cakes” and deserts shown on screen. This is a story about passion and grief. We build our lives around people. Even though they may not be who we think they are or they leave us unexpectedly, they give our lives purpose and meaning. So how do we react when they are no longer there? We could just run away and hope the world never bothers us again. Or we can fight. Yoshihiro Fukagawa directs the script he wrote jointly with Kiyotaka Inagaki. It’s a delicate affair, matching internalised desolation with an obsessional desire to be the best you can be in your chosen profession. It’s about the people and their relationships. How customers’ lives interact with the shop, how an outsider can provoke change, how new lives can emerge from the old when people work together. This is not a sentimental romance. It reaches an ending that feels right in all the circumstances. Life will go on. It will not be the same. Hopefully, it will be better than before. If for no other reason, it’s worth seeing for Yû Aoi’s performance which is a nicely judged journey from a provincial and somewhat narrow-minded cook to a potentially professional maker of pâtisseries. In this, the use of light in the cinematography by Hikaru Yasuda is carefully choreographed to capture moments of despair and hope. It matches the mood as Yû Aoi and Yôsuke Eguchi struggle with their inner demons. As a complete package, Pâtisserie Coin de Rue or My Pâtisserie or Yougashiten Koandoru is not something to be missed — sadly, we can’t have samples of the pâtisseries served as we watch the film to perfect our enjoyment.

 

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