Food. We all eat it. And like most things in modern life there is an innate need to raise simple pleasures to the point of ecstasy. Cooking shows may fill that need to a point, but then how many people actually make those dishes? To this end, many shows have wisely repackaged our love of food preparation and consumption under other genres. Japan, perhaps due to a national tendency to obsess over something to the point of perfecting it, has produced a batch of such shows and the latest of which is Kantaro: The Sweet Toothed Salaryman.
Kantaro is the typical Japanese office worker stereotype: stoic and professional. He works in the sales department of a Tokyo based publishing company. But underneath his robotic office drone exterior he harbours a secret: an unending love of sweets! His sales visits are carefully organised and performed to gift him enough time to visit local sweet shops when he should actually be working. This ‘playing hooky’ is the general plot device around which the dessert gorging can take place.
Kantaro’s store visits are bookended by standard office comedy / drama. He runs a popular blog dedicated to reviewing his sweet toothed indulges and one or two co-workers come close to discovering his secret. But these are always deftly dealt with. The office parts are the appetizers for the sugar attack that is to come.
Oh boy, does Kantaro love sweet things! A nice added extra is that every place he visits is a real shop in Tokyo, so you can take the show as not only a pudding piece, but a travel show to boot. Each episode focuses on particular desserts which vary from traditional Japanese treats to more Western staples (albeit usually with a Japanese refinement). Kantaro delights in explaining the process by which his mouth-watering order is made, accompanied by lingering slow mo shots showing sauces poured lovingly over fruit and so on. The descriptions are so poetically orgasmic that you can sense the not so subtle advertising hand in the script (Come visit ‘X’ place! It’s so great!) although this never really annoys particularly. That said, Kantaro’s facial expressions and noises as he eats are so over exaggerated that if anyone is watching over your shoulder you might get some funny looks!
The show takes a step into delightfully bizarre Japanese once the foods are eaten as Kantaro is transported into ‘sweets heaven’ – a quasi animated realm where both he and his co-workers are depicted as having key ingredients replace their own heads! Cream, melon, matcha, adzuki beans: all replace the faces of our characters. These parts are short lived but certainly memorable. A spiky chestnut headed Kantaro sits in a hospital chair until his face literally explodes out of the shell with sweetness? Odd, but fun.
Kantaro: The Sweet Toothed Salaryman sits firmly in the ‘over-exaggerated’ camp of Japanese entertainment. Office managers shout with gusto and bawl with childish disappointment at sales statistics in a manner than may be grating for some. And Kantaro himself is not a particularly engaging character, given how he is humourlessly straight laced for large periods of time, and then manically over-indulgent in others. The episode where we meet his mother (She’s a dentist! She never let him eat sweets as a child!) grates somewhat as Kantaro delights rather too much in eating éclairs two inches from her sleeping face. This is a show that you will very quickly know if you will like or not.
This show reminds me of the far superior ‘Wakakozake’ (sadly it’s not on Netflix, but you can watch it on Crunchyroll) which works on a very similar basis but with no OTT ‘comedy’ blasts and with much more likeable characters. Indeed, if Kantaro: The Sweet Toothed Salaryman does kind of grab but you find it just a bit too annoying in its presentation, then why not try the superb Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories for one off dramatic short stories featuring tasty foods (which IS on Netflix). This is a booming genre which the Japanese seem to have taken as their own.
This is not the sort of show that would have worked in any other format other than streaming / binging as there is certainly no real plot going on for the 12 episodes available. But if, like me, you like to escape the typical western fare to enjoy something that you would never, ever, get from any other country than Japan, then this is definitely a show for you!
Words by Michael Record