Eye On

Tale of a Butcher Shop


There is a German documentary from 2005 titled Our Daily Bread. Without narration or much in the way of music, it brought to light with mesmerizing visuals the impact convenience and modern mass-production methods have had on the food we consume. The meditative quality of the documentary left reaction solely to the viewers, be it shock, disgust, amazement, etc. On first look, Hanabusa Aya’s 2013 documentary Tale of a Butcher Shop may well be the Japanese pseudo-companion piece. The local butcher shop remains a visible and well-loved part of many communities throughput Japan. But like everywhere, these are slowly disappearing feature of the landscape due to modernization and demands for meat to be sold at volume and for low prices.

The Kitades are a family who live outside Osaka. They have been raising and slaughtering the cows they sell for meat at their small butcher shop for over 100 years. As the family embark upon their decision to close shop in response to competition from corporate supermarkets, the three butcher siblings contemplate life afterwards.

By all accounts, Hanabusa does not shy away from starkly showing the process of slaughtering a cow and dividing it up to various cuts of meat. However, the scene apparently also displays the respect for the animal and the loving skill displayed by the Kitades’ passed down traditions which serve as a glaring contrast to the aforementioned German documentary. Moreover, Hanabusa also reveals the Kitades are from a lower caste of society when such a system existed but still must deal with elements of exclusion and prejudice to this day. In so doing, Hanabusa looks to have created a clever profile of the importance of the family-run business to the community in an age of ever growing “corporate creep” even as this particular family ironically have faced prejudices from the very society it has dedicatedly served for generations. While the “farm to table” movement continues to gain traction, Tale of a Butcher Shop is a reminder of the sometimes two-edged nature of the benevolent desire to return to “simpler” times.

Hanabusa-san has graciously provided a screener of the movie and this will be one of the rare chances to view a work highlighted in this section without much delay. She may also be working on a new documentary. Details and news will be forthcoming as soon as they are revealed.