PBS television series POV debuts THE BIRTH OF SAKÉ on Sep. 51:12 AM
“A richly immersive documentary . . . achieves a remarkable level of intimacy without ever sacrificing its reserve or restraint.”There’s a lot more to saké—the legendary Japanese rice wine—than most drinkers realize.— Justin Chang, Variety
Japanese-American filmmaker Erik Shirai goes inside the Yoshida Brewery, a 144-year-old family-owned company in northern Japan, to capture the traditional saké-making process in "The Birth of Saké," which earned him a Special Jury Mention for Best New Documentary Director at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.
The mystical nature of the libation is captured in the film’s opening statement: “Saké making is a living thing. If you compare it to human beings it would be like raising a child.”
While saké is often experienced as a warmed drink in the West, its northern Japanese birthplace is cold and forlorn.
Inside the brewery, for example, great clouds of welcoming steam rise above the white rice used to make the saké—mirroring the snow and ice just beyond the windows.
Making saké the traditional way, says 68-year-old brewmaster Teruyuki Yamamoto, requires knowledge and intuition.
The film, two years in the making, is the first in-depth examination of the Yoshida operation and a rare look at the intense and relatively unknown (even within Japan) process of traditional saké making.
Being separated from loved ones is the hardest aspect of the process, though there are times of levity, including time spent watching sumo wrestling.
The company is also under external pressure from a dwindling saké market. Consumption is down in Japan and worldwide, according to the film, while beer, whiskey and other types of alcoholic drinks have made significant inroads.
Yasuyuki Yoshida, the young brewmaster, comes across as a happy warrior.
Shirai said he wants his film to create “not the desire to drink saké as much as an appreciation of the people who make it. We are talking about a dying art that should be kept alive.”
He said, “We consider ourselves very fortunate to have been well-placed to explore and share this ancient handmade technique, so rarely used now in our mechanized world. We hope that The Birth of Saké will elicit solemn and profound introspection about our place in the history of making and consuming, and about our relationships with our own work and with those with whom we work.”About the Filmmaker: Erik Shirai, Director
Erik Shirai is a New York City filmmaker working around the world on renowned documentaries and television shows. He was a cinematographer for the Emmy® award-winning Travel Channel series No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain and recently completed Eye What You Eat, a new web series for the Scripps Networks. Shirai’s food films were also featured at a TED conference in New York in 2012. In 2008, Shirai launched his own production company, Cebu Osani Creative, as a foundation for his creative ideals and to create films that are compelling, original and visually cinematic. Shirai’s main goal is to produce one-of-a-kind content with integrity and respect.