The Birth of Sake (2015)

My formative experience with Sake was when I was fifteen, sleeping over at a friends house. His dad marked the bottles in their bar with a sharpie so he would know if there was any clandestine imbibing of alcohol. Except for one, an archaic jar like bottle of Sake, which he didn’t care about.

It was god awful. I suspect it was waaaaaaaay beyond drinking, and tasted what I can only imagine paint thinners tastes like. Perhaps more useful as an embalming agent or to remove tar tracked into your carpet (but what did we know) I likely gave myself alcohol poisoning and ended up having to sleep with one foot on the floor to stop the room from spinning.

That episode colored my perception of Sake for the next twenty years.

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Until I went to Japan. Which was an experience of Damascasian proportions. OH! THIS is how its supposed to be.

I am a generally speaking a Japanophile. Sure there are things that I don’t really ‘get’. Like their insane obsession with pachinko (ball bearing gambling machines) and the otaku culture of Akihabara. But I love sushi, jujitsu, bullet trains, zen gardens and Kyoto.

The thing I admire most about Japanese people though, is the way they do things. The first day I was in Tokyo I went for a walk around the Imperial palace. On my way there, there was this small section of road construction. A temporary walkway had been constructed that deviated from the main pedestrian thoroughfare. It has been taped off and clearly marked out but there was this elderly Japanese gentleman standing there, in some sort of municipal uniform whose job it was to guide you through this small zig-zag detour. He took his job super seriously. He bowed as you approached and then extended his arm to demonstrate how best to engage the detour. I was fascinated. I think about that old man quite often and how he took such pride in himself and his extremely menial and boring job.

The Birth of Sake is a documentary about the 144 year old Yoshida Brewery. They brew Sake in a traditional way, a process that lasts the entire winter. In that time, the brewers eat, sleep and work together. This film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and went on to win the Best Documentary award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Making Sake in the this way is mind numblingly labor intensive. It makes the process of making our western beer and wine seem like adding orange flavored concentrate to water, shaking it up and then drinking the result.

You don’t need to be a fan of Sake to appreciate this movie. Or even alcohol really. This film is engrossing because of the mindset of the people. In a world of automation, devoid of human craftsmanship I find it fascinating to watch people who still take their trade so seriously. It makes me cheerful that stuff like this still exists.

Very much recommended. Catch it on Netflix.