When it comes down to it, this film is the story of two people: Kotaro and Rui. At first look, they appear to be total opposites. Kotaro starts the film horribly immature. He’s only interested in doing the bare minimum—less if he can talk his way out of it. He has no drive or motivation—even trying to turn down a series of articles handed to him on a silver platter with the excuse that he’s “still too new” (despite working the job for six months). Even when forced to do his job, the most he can be bothered to do in prep work is a simple Google search—and he doesn’t even care enough to realize he researched the wrong company.
As a journalist in the “enthusiast press” (i.e., journalism centered around hobbies and personal interests), I couldn’t help but harbor a hatred for Kotaro on a profoundly personal level. All reporters have to cover something outside of their element occasionally. Sometimes, this can lead to mistakes. God knows I’ve made a few in my day—everyone has. However, it is crucial to admit (both to others and yourself) that mistakes were your fault and ensure they don’t happen again. At the start, Kotaro lacks the necessary self-reflection to realize this.
Rui, on the other hand, has the drive and the talent to succeed in her field. In just one year as head of her company, she and her staff created an entirely new malt whisky—single-handedly saving the company. She is passionate about what she does and loves discussing it with whisky connoisseurs and laypeople alike. Kotaro, seeing someone so clearly in their element, is jealous. However, it takes him a while to realize they are far more alike than he could have ever believed.
Thematically, this film is about giving up on childhood dreams and the reasons for doing so. Kotaro was in a band with friends growing up—something he gave up on when he decided they’d likely never make it big. This has left him without direction in life. He sees people around him who seem to have found their place in the world. It never occurred to him that few of them, regardless of how happy they were, ever expected to end up where they are now. This is especially true of Rui.
Rui was never supposed to inherit the family’s business—her brother was. All she ever wanted to be was an artist. However, with the earthquake, her brother’s estrangement from the family, and her father’s death a few years later, she was left with a choice: live for herself or live for her family (and all the workers they employ). So she gave up her dream—and her talents as a whisky manufacturer blossomed.
The fundamental difference between her and Kotaro is that while they gave up on their dreams, Rui was determined to own her choice—to put her heart and soul into whatever came next. She gave up what meant the most to her in the world and wouldn’t let that sacrifice be in vain. Through getting to know her, Kotaro starts to put effort into his own life—he sees that a proper mindset and pride in one’s work can fill the void in his life. This is the message the film is trying to convey.
On the visual side, this film is precisely what one would expect from PA Works. There is an enormous amount of detail in each frame. Every inch of the background is lovingly realized, from the distilleries and bars to warehouses and corporate offices. It is a beautiful film from top to bottom. As for the music, it certainly does its job, even if no pieces (other than the ending credits theme) stand out in any significant way. It simply fits the film’s emotional tone and never overdoes it to build cheap melodrama.
Overall, Komada – A Whisky Family is an above-average film that uses both the whisky and journalism industries as tools to tell a story about what it means to become an adult. Neither Kotaro nor Rui have ended up where they wanted to. However, they can still make a meaningful place for themselves regardless. Even if you know nothing about either industry, this film will still connect with you emotionally—and you may find a new enjoyment of the ins and outs of whisky making in the process.