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Friday, April 17, 2015

THE BIRTH OF SAKE

A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E, Levine

How many of us who enjoy sake actually think about what goes into making it.

This 94 minute documentary shows a slowly vanishing way of life in Japan as director Erik Shirai takes us on an in-depth look at the men who work at the 144 year old Tedorigawa Brewery in northern Japan.

Every October a group of men bid farewell to their families and travel north to spend six cold and lonely months making sake at the Tedorigawa Brewery.  The process is complex and time consuming.

The onscreen footage of rice being polished, rinsed, dried and steamed in heated rooms where they're treated with special koji-kin mold.  After starch is converted to sugar fermentation begins producing a starter yeast called shubo, a final mixture of moromi which is churned for 25-30 days and from which eventually sake is pressed.

Like raising a "finicky child" according to Shirai, making perfect sake requires 24 hour night and day attention by workers, to prevent even the slightest variance which would negatively impact the very delicate balance of alcohol, fragrance and flavor.

All the workers are men and some have been doing sake brewing for over 50 years.  Making sake is an art, according to Shirai and the workers he interviewed.

Only 1,000 sake breweries now exist, as compared to 4,600 in the early 20th century.  Sake consumption has declined and the sixth generation heir to the Tedorigawa, Yasuyuki Yoshida, spends the six months when the the brewery is not in productions, traveling the world and promoting the brand.

Yoshida discusses the economic imperatives as well as the fact that most breweries are now 100% automated and frequently sacrifice bolder, richer flavors appreciated by established sake drinkers to lure younger drinkers in with the smoother more mellow flavors.