Café of Happiness
By Tatiana Farmer
What does it mean to be happy? In the small village of Toya, located in Hokkaido prefecture, lives a young couple who seems to hold the answer to this puzzling question. Café Mani is owned by Rie and Nao Mizushima. Their café gives off an earthy and organic feel. Almost all of their furniture is made out of various shades of wood, and their walls are painted a light cream color. The café is entirely surrounded by vegetation. Little plants are seen throughout the house as decoration, along with small creations made of glass created by Yoko, the village glassblower. They either grow their own ingredients or buy them locally. Their café is a refreshing little place away from the bustling and chaotic life of the city, which makes it perfect for weary travelers or even fellow villagers seeking an escape.
Rie and Nao moved to the village to escape their old lives in Tokyo. The city life was proving too much for Rie, who was slowly falling into a miserable and repetitive routine after she gave up on finding her Mani, a fictional character from a book she often read in her childhood. Nao asks Rie to move to Tsukiura with him when he notices how hard life is becoming for her. Her family has passed away and she is beginning to force her smiles, she claims her heart is becoming smaller. This begins their journey as café owners. Nao bakes delicious bread and Rie cooks hearty food. They always use the ingredients that are in season, offering a variety in taste for their customers at any time of the year. Each season change ends up brining a new customer who is lacking something they end up finding with the couple.
Summer is a time for adventure and risk-taking. This shows up in the form of a city girl named Kaori who finds herself staying at the Mani café alone after her boyfriend breaks up with her a few days before her birthday and right before their trip to Okinawa. Kaori is heartbroken but lies to her coworkers so that they would not find out. She gets drunk one night and admits that she feels that the people of Tokyo are all tensed and are constantly forcing themselves to laugh. She claims that life in the country-side must always be peaceful and happy, but Tokio, a local in the area discredits this, later disclosing to her in private that he is unhappy with his repetitive job of switching train tracks. He tells her that a person must struggle to be happy, which is something he feels he is not doing.
Autumn is the epitome of change. Adjusting to life without her mother is proving to be a difficult process for village locals Miku and her father. Miku finds herself at Café Mani one morning when she misses the bus to school. She is stoic in Rie and Nao’s presence, but puts on a smile at school and jokes with her peers. However, when she returns to her home, she reverts back to being lifeless. Her house is empty, there are dishes still in the sink, and a little money left on the table from her father so that she can buy food. Miku disregards the money and gently sets the table for three, staring at the chairs where her parents should be.
Miku then sits on the floor and eats bread until her father comes home from work. She tells him that she wishes to eat the pumpkin soup her mother used to make her before she divorced Miku’s father.
Although winter also has its own beauty, it is hard to ignore its ties with death. An old couple arrives in the middle of a snowstorm one winter evening. Aya and Fumio Sakamoto have been together for 50 years. They have braced tough times together, specifically when an earthquake took everything they had, including their daughter. Thinking that life no longer has anything to offer for them anymore, they travel to Tsukiura with the intentions of dying together.
Café Mani is where all of these people find their happiness. “Compagno” is a word that Nao uses frequently throughout the film. He claims the origin of the word is “people who share bread together” and its meaning is companion. Kaori and Tokio were able to eventually find love with each other at the café over the simple taste of bread. Miku and her father were finally able to communicate their feelings while eating bread with pumpkin soup. Lastly, Aya and Fumio were able to ignite a spark in their dull lives over sharing bean bread together. Bread becomes a symbol of happiness through the intimacy and connection that is established through sharing it with a person, be it a romantic or parental relationship. Nao mentions that companionship is the basis of a family and also a source of happiness, which in a way is what Café Mani provides for its customers.
Finally, spring represents life. Before they learn they are about to have a child, Rie begins to feel truly happy after she realizes she has found her Mani, which was Nao all along. Just as Mani supported the moon across the sky every night, Nao supported Rie at her darkest time. Perhaps the happiness Nao wanted Rie to feel was also transferred into the bread he baked, adding meaning to Café Mani because just as Rie was able to find her Mani, their customers were able to find theirs too.
Shiawase no Pan. Dir. Yukiko Mishima. Asmik Ace Entertainment, 2012. Film.