FILM REVIEW: Wasabia Japonica
99% of the wasabi found in cheap sushi restaurants or grocery stores do not contain real wasabi — they are a mixture of horseradish, mustard and food colouring. Real wasabi, officially known as the Wasabia Japonica plant, is grown primarily in the mountain river valleys of Japan where they thrive best.
75-year-old Shigeo Iida from Izu, Shizuoka province, is the 8th generation owner of the Iriya Manaka wasabi farm. By harnessing nature and eschewing any chemicals or machinery, Iida grows some of the world’s best wasabi.
Director: Edwin Lee
Cast: Shiego Iida
Review by Jean Wong
Wasabia Japonica (2019) documents the art of cultivating wasabi, one of the most expensive vegetables in the market. With a focus on the Iida family, who has been growing wasabi for generations, Wasabia Japonica manages to capture the essence of the wasabi industry in merely 7 minutes.
Right from the start, the camera pans over the beautiful valley that the family’s wasabi farm is located on. The pleasant music atop the beautiful scenery quickly and easily puts the audience in an inviting mood to learn about wasabi. With brightly-lit scenes full of natural sunlight, we are introduced to Shiego Iida, the person currently in charge of his family’s wasabi farm.
Iida generously opens up about the wasabi industry and delves into the history of the plant. As he enthusiastically shares his knowledge about wasabi, director Edwin Lee keeps things interesting by continuing to incorporate both wide shots of the wasabi farm, as well as closeups of the wasabi plants, while Iida narrates off-screen.
Wasabia Japonica is more than just an informative documentary, however, as Iida opens up about his family. The personal element keeps the documentary engaging by showcasing Iida’s human and relatable side. At the same time, director Lee avoids making Wasabia Japonica too sombre by turning the focus back to the wasabi industry.
The skillful direction shown by Lee makes the documentary an overall pleasant one to watch. Though a simple documentary, Wasabia Japonica definitely succeeds in gaining more appreciation for wasabi farmers. As it ends on a positive note, we’re once again treated to the exquisite bright scenes characteristic of the documentary itself.
About Shorties Film Festival
Shorties Film Festival is an annual week long celebration of Asia’s most exciting short films. Held across Asia from 7 – 11 May, the SFF seeks to celebrate and help young filmmakers get more exposure for their projects and films. Wasabia Japonica will be screened on the last day of the festival. Get your tickets here. For more information, visit their Facebook page.