‘The Birth of Sake,’ the Beautiful New Documentary About the Endangered Art of Making Sake by Hand

Toji (“Toji-san”) Yamamoto has dedicated his life to brewing sake by hand. At 68 years young, he’s the brewmaster at Yoshida Brewery in Japan’s Ishikawa Prefecture. It’s 144 years old and one of only a handful of sake breweries still making rice wine the old-fashioned way, an endangered and labor-intensive process that takes place round-the-clock from October through April. Sake-brewing ain’t easy either. For those six months, the team eats, sleeps, works, bathes, gets drunk, and sings karaoke together. They can’t see their families and they are their only friends. If it sounds intense bordering on brutal, it’s because it is.

Filmmaker Erik Shirai, who previously worked as a cameraman on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, captured it all on camera in The Birth of Sake. It’s gorgeous and poignant, filled with gems like, “Sake making is a living thing. If you compare it to human beings, it would be like raising a child. You have to nurture it properly.” We sat down with 6th-generation heir to the brewery Yachan-san, director Erik Shirai, and brewmaster Toji-san, who are in town for the Tribeca Film Festival, to learn more about the film, life at Yoshida, and what we need to know about drinking sake.

'The Birth of Sake,' the Beautiful New Documentary About the Endangered Art of Making Sake by Hand

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