Event Recap: Art of Sake 2019

Avatar photo Daniel Zar/

Kampai! For The Love Of Sake” is one of the most iconic films about saké; (one that should be on everyone’s to watch list) It stars 3 iconic educators and brewers who speak about their saké journey and what made them fall in love with Japans national drink.

Saké News was invited to a special screening organised by the Consulate-General of Japan, JETRO Sydney and 8 Australian saké importers with a special guest speaker by the films starring Toji, Mr. Kosuke Kuji from Nanbu Bijin brewery; followed by a special saké tasting event.

The event was held at Palace Cinema in Sydney and once everyone was settled in, it began with a quick introduction from the Acting Consul-General Mr. Hideaki Matsuo, explaining the importance of improving international business ties, supporting the saké industry by reaching new markets and the success story of saké in Australia (last year alone saw a 12.6% increase) before lastly introducing 5th generation Toji and the films main star Mr. Kosuke Kuji.

Mr. Kuji took the stage smiling and overall seeming both humble and incredibly bubbly. He explained how excited he was when he was approached by the film’s director Mr. Mirai Konishi whose aim was to “make a movie that made you want to drink saké after watching it” (We would be lying if we said we don’t normally have a drink WHILE watching).

Mr Kuji from Nanbu Bijin Brewery (right)

The movie stars Mr. John Gauntner and Mr. Philip Harper alongside Mr. Kuji; beginning with a brief introduction into the everyday culture of the 3 stars, it shows each in their element with Mr. Gauntner teaching a seminar, Mr. Harper pouring saké at a drinks festival and Mr Kosuke Kuji travelling to London to educate consumers about Nanbu brewery.

The film seamlessly blends together the 3 different perspectives of a saké educator, an unexpected saké brewer and of someone born into a saké making family in what is a challenging time for saké. Each person’s story is unique and the movie fits in useful saké information without over complicating the story.

Mr John Gauntner is the world’s leading saké experts having written 5 books on the subject, been the only non-Japanese to sit on the ministry of forestry and fisheries panel and runs the Saké Professional course throughout the world. His latest book “Sake Confidential” is an outstanding resource for a comprehensive understanding of saké while still being beginner friendly.

Mr. Gauntner throughout the film presents the view of a saké educator and enthusiast. He tells us how he initially didn’t think much of saké (an all too common story with western enthusiasts), mostly drinking cheap saké warm at local small bars and how his saké journey really began at 1989’s new year’s day, at a colleagues house where he sampled 5 isshobin (large 1.8L bottles) and was “totally blown away” at the evolving flavour and depth.

We then learn how John transitioned to a saké professional through a fateful encounter with a Japan Times writer at a casual hanami (cherry blossom) party where a natural conversation about the different flavours and indeed quality of saké led to him beginning his education career by writing for Japan number 1 English newspaper.

Mr. Philip Harper is the first non-Japanese to ever earn the title of Toji after passing the Nanbu Brewers Guild Exam. He has over 28 years of experience working in numerous breweries including Umenoyado and is currently head brewer at Kinoshita Shuzo who makes the famous Tamagawa range.

Throughout the film Philip shows his dedication to saké brewing time and time again, he explains how a slow day usually starts at 6am and excluding meal breaks would finish at around 9pm, the sort of hours where you would struggle to watch a whole movie in one session

The most memorable story however, was when Philip was riding a bicycle to and from the brewery each day; one night out of sheer exhaustion, he fell asleep and rode straight into a river; he woke up soaked in cold water with his shoes floating downstream and his first thought was “oh no I’m going to be late for work”. When Philip arrived to work 2 minutes late everyone froze staring; his face was covered in blood as he had hit a rock in the river and not realised, when asked if he went to hospital he simply laughs and says “oh no, I washed my face and did the session of work”.

Tamagawa sake of Kinoshita Shuzo (left)

Our main star is Mr. Kosuke Kuji who throughout the films explains the challenges in being a legacy to the only brewery in town, especially the pressure of having everyone know you as the “son of the Kuji family, of Nanbu Bijin brewery”.

Mr. Kuji describes the beginning of his attempts to modernise the brewery for different flavours and concepts as “absolutely hellish”. While he received a great deal of support from the brewery’s former toji, Mr. Yamaguchi, he struggled with the older kurabito (brewery workers) outright ignoring his ideas and most importantly his father who kept reminding him of the brewery rules, worried that he was changing things too quickly.

A common theme throughout the movie is perseverance, while the perseverance to educate, learn and Mr. Kuji’s struggle in changing with the times is admirably present; it is the heart breaking moments mentioned about when the disastrous 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, the comrades who were affected and lost, the local economy that was crippled, the struggle and the great effort and unity it took to recover from such a horrible event which really displayed the perseverance of the people and the brewers. It was a truly touching and heartfelt moment in the film.

Once again, “Kenpai! For the love of sake” is a fantastic movie which we highly recommend watching preferably with a glass of Iwate prefecture saké (like Nanbu Bijin).

With the movie finished we spoke briefly with Mr. Nobuhisa Tsuchiya from the Japanese Consulate about what inspired setting up this event. Mr Tsuchiya told us that it took over 3 months of planning alongside the 8 local sake importers/distributers to organise this event with the main goal being to continue to promote sake together as It’s particularly important for both connecting Australian businesses with Japanese importers and helping grow saké.

We really must thank all of the importers at this point for helping put this event together and will be covering each company in more detail in our future articles however for now would like to say a simple thank you to Black Market Sake, Daiwa Food, Déjà vu Sake Co, JFC Australia, Jun Pacific, Nippon Food Supplies, Sakenet Australia and Sakeshop by Chef’s Armoury. These events along with your passion are what continue to inspire people to learn, try and fall in love with saké.

We then arrived at a special area where many Australian saké importers had set up a special tasting, however for this article we will be focusing on reviewing the ones mentioned in the movie which are imported by JFC (Nambu Bijin) and Sakenet (Tamagawa) respectively.


Nambu Junmai Daiginjo

Nose: Incredibly aromatic with raspberry, strawberry, fresh floral notes, lychee and peach.

Palate: first impression is that it’s incredibly smooth, the texture is a little heavier which we like and the lychee and strawberry flavours carry through for a very long finish.


Nanbu Tokubetsu Junmai

Nose: clean with lingering lychee and apple.

Palate: wow, incredibly smooth with an amazing finish that has a slight umami flavour which makes you go back for more (we couldn’t stop ourselves from having multiple sips).


Tamagawa Junmai (served warm)

Nose: clean with rice pudding and fresh spring water notes.

Palate: Smooth with an incredibly warming finish carrying through a lingering flavour of gently heated vanilla.


We would like to extend our sincerest thanks to Mr. Kosuke Kuji and the Japanese Consulate for organising this incredible event and wish Mr. Kuji the best of luck in his quest to show the world the wonders of saké.

Kenpai, Daniel


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