The Birth of Saké

Directed by Erik Shirai

Through the unrelenting winter in the north of Japan, a small group of workers must brave unusual working conditions to bring to life a 2,000-year-old tradition known as sake. A cinematic documentary, The Birth of Sake is a visually immersive experience of an almost-secret world in which large sacrifices must be made for the survival of a time-honored brew.


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  • ★★★½ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd


    The power of cinema: I'm not a foodie, not a drinker, couldn't care less about this subject matter...and yet was fascinated. That's mostly thanks to the film's aggressively process-oriented approach—virtually any endeavor depicted in such minute detail would be compelling to me, I suspect—but first-time director Erik Shirai also just has a terrific eye, both for on-the-fly imagery and for studied interstitial compositions à la Ozu. Was initially concerned when workers started to be individualized, as that seemed more conventional, less Geyrhalter-ish; once it became clear that traditional saké-making is seasonal, however, and that everyone lives communally in the brewery for seven months annually, those relationships essentially become part of the machinery. (Shirai also deserves credit for not heavily foreshadowing one sad event, instead choosing to provide a poignant montage after the fact.) At this writing, you can stream The Birth of Saké on Netflix—give it ten minutes and see if you can turn it off. I fully expected to and didn't.

  • ★★★★ review by MrSneakyMan on Letterboxd

    A documentary that details one of the few remaining breweries in Japan that brews sake in the traditional, labor-intensive process. The workers must work round the clock for 6 months. Their days start at 5am and can go late into the night. They must live on-site in a communal setting. Away from families and loved ones, they form a strong sense of kinship with each other.

    Erik Shirai's lens focuses on the picturesque qualities of the brewing process. His editing is confidant and controlled. The result is a captivating, beautiful and touching film.

  • ★★★★ review by James Reynov on Letterboxd

    I’m going to miss the hell out of Japan, and it’s truly because of the people. I’ve met so many generous, disciplined, wise, humble, kind, and patient people here, I’ve really learned so much from them and feel like I’ve grown from my interactions here, many of which I’ll never forget. So it’s just fitting for my last night to watch this doc of my favorite alcoholic beverage made by people I respect a lot. It’s a wonderfully immersive doc and you find yourself getting so much pleasure from the workers interactions, and how insane the whole sake brewing process is, there’s a lot to take out of this doc and enjoy.

  • ★★★★ review by Ruksana April Faraon 🌻 on Letterboxd

    I'm not sure when I started watching this. All I know is that sometimes when I'm stressed out I'll put this on for a little bit, and I find it deeply relaxing. It's a tender look at the life of the Tedorigawa Brewery in northern Japan — and it's a soothing sensory experience to boot, though I feel a little funny about using a documentary the same way I use YouTube videos of rain sounds or droning boat noises. That's not on the film, though. I'm very glad this is what it is.

  • ★★★½ review by Dustin Riccio on Letterboxd

    Unexpectedly beautiful, The Birth of Sake is a documentary about the long, detailed process that goes into making sake. Specifically, it keys in on a brewery in Japan that still does everything the traditional way by hand. Because of how labor intensive this process is, the workers have to live on site together as a small family throughout the six month brewing process. There's something wonderful, but also deeply melancholic, about the way these men dedicate their lives to keeping this traditional method alive. The Birth of Sake wisely splits time between the workers' lives and the brewery process itself, letting one take a holistic view of the entire enterprise. Add in the often beautifully composed imagery of the actual brewing, and The Birth of Sake is about as good a film as one could expect to make about a brewing process. This is a legitimate piece of filmic art all on its own.

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