Monday, December 25, 2017

"Kantaro"'s surreal relatability

I have a new favorite television program, and by "television" I mean Canadian Netflix. "Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman," which I'm somewhere in the middle of, tells a story at once universal and highly specific. The highly specific first: it's about a Japanese businessman who gets his sales visits (to bookstores) done as quickly as possible, so as to try desserts in cafés near wherever those visits happen to have taken him. When he arrives at the dessert place, a mildly NSFW but ultimately more suggestive than literal scene ensues: eyes rolled back, syrup splashed, and then, inevitably, his head transforms into the (main ingredient of the) dessert in question. After each visit, he writes on a pseudonymous blog about the culinary experience.

The drama comes from the possibility that Kantaro will get found out at work for slacking off while on the clock. Much suspension of disbelief is needed, because a) he's the best salesperson, so maybe they don't care that he's eating a snack here and there, even if snacking for him evidently requires table service?, but also b) dude could just, like, schedule his blog posts, so it's not obvious where and when he's posting, with the times and places lining up with his sales visits.

So fine, this much is specific: we are not, all of us, Tokyo salesmen with distinctive eyebrows, who reach heights of ecstasy when eating traditional Japanese bean-based desserts.

The universal: who doesn't use Yelp or Google Maps or just a knowledge of whichever area to go eat the most delicious thing near whichever work task? Who doesn't get a doctorate in French in order to eat market cheese and croissants and other delicacies readily affordable even to a grad student, the trick being just to get to Paris in the first place? Who wouldn't choose to live and work near a dreamscape Toronto East Asian food corridor, with a Japanese convenience store in the back of a ramen shop, an H-Mart, and (at least) two amazing izakayas? Who doesn't order a bowl of scallion noodles at a Shanghai-style restaurant and then feel the need to recite exactly what is making the food so exquisite?

I can't quite imagine being as thrilled as he is (or to be honest, thrilled at all) about the prospect of a melon-flavored shaved ice, but replace "melon-flavored shaved ice" with "crema bomboloni" and I see where he's coming from. What makes Kantaro so great is, he's not a foodie in the sense of, he's sharing photos of food on social media for status purposes. He's genuinely thrilled with everything he's eaten, to the point where you're sometimes a little worried about him, and wondering if he should maybe keep a KitKat or something on hand, if the cravings are too much.

In some sense the show isn't even about food - it's about the tension between fun and responsibility, and about the way having just enough time to go do something makes whatever it is that much more enjoyable. In a really boring sense, it's a show about time management - the way that if you're trying to get something big accomplished, it's paradoxically easier to have a routine than to have all the time in the world. Except... it's totally about food.

Which brings me to maybe my biggest question about the show, which is whether Kantaro ever eats... meals. Anything savory? Ever? Or does he have regular meals but feel indifferent to them?

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