Food is often overlooked as the very core to so many of our relationships. What, how and when we eat shapes many of our interactions. This premise forms the central concept of Dad’s Lunch Box which showed at Quad Derby as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme.
Based on a single viral tweet, Dad’s Lunch Box follows a newly-divorced, middle-aged father’s (played by Toshimi Watanabe) tribulations preparing daily bento lunchboxes for his teenage daughter (Rena Takeda). And that is just about sums up the movie’s 76-minutes, a near plotless run through of one dad’s journey from horrendous cook to lunchbox master.
And it would be easy to focus on this, missing the point of Dad’s Lunchbox’s nuanced look at family relationships and the concept of love.
From the off, scandal and drama are almost done away with in favour of focusing on this daily act of love. In the opening moments the absentee father trope is shattered, as the mother stands up and as she is leaving states the father will need to make lunch now. The character, the divorce and the circumstances around it are never mentioned again.
There is a slight sub-plot of the daughter dating for a brief part of the narrative, but this, in general, only adds to the food as a metaphor for love.
With the usual stand-offish nature of teenagers, the creation of bento boxes is the manifestation of a father’s love and devotion to his daughter, the way in which he can connect with her after the divorce.
Director Masakazu Fukatsu’s lingering focus on the mundane and every day – shopping for ingredients, school lunchtimes, meal preparation – whilst moving at a snail’s pace, gives the viewer time to immerse themselves in the lives of the two main characters and to, ultimately, love them.
Definitely not one for the impatient, Dad’s Lunch Box is a slow-burner that unfolds in a true-heartwarming and thought-provoking manner. It is built with the same care and skill as the bento boxes the hapless father creates.
Don’t let its simplicity fool you, Dad’s Lunch Box is a contented sigh of a movie, full of warmth and hidden depths. Viewing will make you feel at peace with the world.