The making of saké the traditional way has not only been overshadowed and overcome by the usage of machines, which can produce the drink at a faster rate, but in Erik Shirai’s documentary film “The Birth of Saké”, the original way of making Japan’s national drink is dying out.
Set in the Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan, the Yoshida Brewery remains a strong hold in making saké the same way it has for the last 140 years. In order to do so, from October to April the workers must live, eat, and dorm together away from their families working from five in the morning to well into the night. Disregarding machines and under the direction of the Toji, or brewmaster, using touch, smell, taste, and sight is essential in order to perfect the drink. But traditional brewing and the consumption of saké is decreasing in Japan.
As the documentary progresses, albeit rather slowly at times, Yachan, the heir of Yoshida Brewery, finds himself with the dilemma of trying to preserve the tradition of saké making, along with keeping the national drink alive among the Japanese people. Yachan is caught between the old and the new, tradition versus major consumerism, and trying to find a balance between the two. With consumers choosing to drink mass made brands and western beverages, the demand for saké has steadily declined along with trying to find workers willing to make the cultured drink the traditional way, since many young men find the work too be demanding and rigorous.
With wonderful shots of Japanese landscapes, background stories of some of the workers, and visual knowledge of how traditional saké brewing works, this film makes us all appreciate the dedication of the Yoshida Brewery workers who create something so simple and pure as saké.