The Restaurant of Wishes
by Tatiana Farmer
Rinko’s Restaurant (2010) was directed by Mai Tominaga and is set in Nako, a small mountain village in rural Japan. Rinko, the protagonist of the story, is a young woman who has fallen on hard times and is trying to put purpose back into her life through food. The film follows her on her own journey of healing and self-discovery, a journey she shares with anyone who makes a reservation at her restaurant.
The film begins in a misty light. A medium-sized pot and a small bag on the ground appears in the scene as the camera slowly pans away to the steady sound of a shovel hitting untouched soil. The birds are chirping, the ground is dewy, and the calmness of the atmosphere makes it clear that it is early morning. We come across a person clad in dark clothing crouching down to the ground. The person appears to be a woman, but her hair is wild and she is barefoot. She takes whatever she was looking for out of the ground just as the scene switches to the point of view of a large pig looking at her from the bushes. The pig emerges from the bushes and comes to the woman, who jumps up and backs away from it. We hear a loud and furious shout of “Thief!” from outside the frame of the camera and the woman tries to run away but ends up tripping into the dirt. An older woman appears in a red robe, large rollers in her hair, and a pitchfork in her hand. She thrusts the pitchfork just inches away from the thief’s face, but stops and looks down at her daughter, Rinko.
Rinko is a pitiful soul when we first encounter her. She has neither money, friends, or nor job. She is always gloomy and mopey, but rightfully so because Rinko also cannot speak. Rinko was not born mute; instead she lost her voice due to a traumatic experience. She moved to the city to live with her grandmother because she could no longer handle the shame of living with her mother, Ryuriko. With her grandmother she develops a love for cooking and decides to become a cook after her grandmother dies. When she is about to open her restaurant, her lover betrays her and takes all of her things. With her grandmother gone, as well as her money, love, and all dreams stolen, Rinko also loses her voice and returns home to her mother. In Rinko’s absence, Ryuriko ends us adopting the pig Rinko encounters and names it Heremesu, and cares for him as if he were her child.
Although Rinko is unable to speak, she still manages to open a restaurant out of a small shed outside of her mother’s house with the help of Aosu, an old man who used to care for her when she was a child. She communicates with him and others with slips of paper she carries around with her in her bag. Aosu becomes Rinko’s first customer and she prepares him a curry dish with pomegranates. After Rinko sets the dish down, she leaves the room and peeks at him eating it. Aosu vigorously eats the meal and when he finishes it, he begins to cry. He explains to Rinko that his wife left with their child because she could not stand his mother and he misses them dearly.
There are three things special about Rinko’s restaurant. First, she will only serve people by reservation and she will take only one reservation at a time. I imagine this is due to the fact she cannot speak to her customers. Second, she does not have a formal menu. She puts great time and care into the custom dishes she makes for her customers, making sure that each one is unique and suits the individual. Lastly, Rinko’s restaurant is known to be able to make wishes come true, due to the magic miso that her grandmother left for her.
About a day after Rinko serves Aosu, he tells her that his wife called him for the first time since they left. He is full of joy and claims it is due to Rinko’s cooking. Rinko will go on to do the same for numerous people. Her cooking helps people fall in love, come to self-realizations, or simply just become happy. Since Rinko’s dreams were stolen from her, she finds fulfilment in granting happiness to other people. She understands how it feels to be at a low place and prepares for them what they really need in the form of a meal.
Rinko is able to mend the relationship with her mother with food as well. Towards the end of the film, Ryuriko who is terminally ill and engaged to be married, asks Rinko to cook Heremesu for her wedding before she dies. The only explanation she offers Rinko is that it is because Heremesu will taste the best out of everything else. Rinko accepts the request despite Heremesu being her pet and prepares him for Ryuriko’s wedding. It could be said that since Ryuriko was able to make up with her daughter, she no longer needed Heremesu and wanted to regain the love she invested in him.
The only time we ever hear Rinko’s voice is when she has flashbacks to her childhood or talks telepathically to Heremesu. It is not until the final scene, when Rinko cooks a meal for herself, something we do not see her do, that we finally hear her speak. She takes a bite of the meal, chews on it slowly and thoughtfully. Then, she merely utters, “delicious” as she begins to cry. This last scene signifies Rinko’s wishes finally coming true. She has her restaurant, people who care for her, and is content. Having regained with all that was stolen from her, she is able to get her voice back and in this instant, she is healed.
Rinko’s Restaurant. Dir. Mao Tominaga. Popular Publishing, 2010. Film.