Film review: Tsukiji Wonderland should resonate with sushi-loving Hongkongers

4 stars

Foodies may struggle to control themselves during Naotaro Endo’s documentary about the world-famous Tokyo fish market, as the film is packed throughout with drooling close-ups of glistening sushi and sashimi. But Tsukiji Wonderland is more than just food porn, venturing deep into the bowels of this culinary Mecca, to study not only the Japanese love of seafood, but also their exemplary work ethic and pride in fair trade.

Documentary to preserve Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji before the fish market’s relocation

Through a somewhat grating voice-over, which drifts in and out like a poorly translated bedtime story – an irritating departure from an otherwise pristinely constructed film – we are told how Tokyo has been a world centre for seafood since the Edo period.

Tsukiji, as it stands now, was purpose-built in its distinctive curved shape, to facilitate delivery by train of thousands of pounds of fish sourced from around the world each day, to be dispatched by truck to customers both locally and internationally. The film emphasises in no uncertain terms that the intermediary wholesalers are the lifeblood of Tsukiji, wielding a profound knowledge passed down through generations.

These men (only one female wholesaler is interviewed in the film) spot and select the produce in hugely competitive auctions each morning, to sell to the appropriate customers. Business is built on long-standing personal relationships among dealers, wholesalers and restaurateurs to a degree that can alienate and intimidate outsiders.

But a shadow looms over Tsukiji: fast-food culture continues to discourage home cooking and cannibalises the livelihoods of these lifelong fishmongers. Business is a tenth of what it was 50 years ago, and the market will close its doors later this year due to relocation to another site. Stall owners lament the imminent demise of their business, as the new generation shirks their heritage in favour of more respectable office work.

Despite all this, they execute their trade with a degree of pride, precision and honesty that is both honourable and incredibly humbling – and Tsukiji Wonderland bears witness to that.

Tsukiji Wonderland opens on September 1

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