Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

A new movie opened in Japan in late September called Nonchan Noriben (the rather sparse listing on IMDB). Here’s a trailer:

The Nonchan part of the title is the name of the little daughter of the main character, Komaki. The Noriben part of the title refers to the name of a classic type of bento. I explained how a noriben is made here, as well as a little bit of the culture behind it. Basically, any bento consisting of layers of rice and nori seaweed is a noriben.

Back to the movie. I haven’t seen it yet of course, but I was a bit surprised that it got made into a movie at all. It’s based on a manga series from the late ’90s with the same title, which was serialized in Morning magazine for 3 years, but never actually came to a real conclusion. Despite that, it’s been made into a TV drama series too. It does have a sort of downtown, warm and fuzzy feel to it that appeals as a subject for “home” dramas and comedies.

The basic outline of Nonchan Noriben

Komaki is a 31 year old housewife, who decides to leave her no-good lazy husband and go back home to live with her mother, with her little kindergarten aged daughter Nonchan in tow. Komaki needs to find a job, but she has no skills to speak of - but she is a great home cook. One day, she eats some saba no miso ni (mackerel cooked in miso) at a small restaurant called Totoya, and is totally inspired by how delicious it is. She begs the owner chef to let her work there. In the meantime, she makes delicious bentos for her daugther Nonchan to bring to kindergarten. Unlike the cute charaben her classmates bring, Nonchan’s bentos are pretty plain looking and traditional, but so delicious. Her favorite is noriben. Komaki finds inspiration for her ‘life work’ - to open a takeout bento store, to make people happy with delicious bentos. Will she fulfill her dream?

Noriben and more: A movie with serious food p*rn

The food in the movie is as much of a star as any of the actors it seems. The food stylist who worked on the movie, Nami Iijima, is a bit of a celebrity in her own right in Japan; she’s worked on other food-centric movies such as Kamome Shokudo (Seagull Diner), and has several popular cookbooks out. Here’s a segment from a Japanese talk show highlighting the role of the food in Nonchan Noriben. One interesting fact: Some of the dishes are explained in little animated segments inserted throughout this live-action movie. Also interesting I thought: The audition for the role of Nonchan was making the child actors eat a bento! The little girl who was eventually cast had, according to the director, a great appetite and loved to eat everything, and that’s why she got the role. There was a bad heat wave during filming, when many of the adults involved in the production got sick, but not the little actress who played Nonchan. She actually gained a little weight!

I thought it was rather interesting that the fact that Komaki makes ‘traditional’ bentos for Nonchan seems to be emphasized as a good thing. I’ve seen it mentioned on some Japanese sites that the plain noriben Komaki makes for Nonchan taste really good, as opposed to the cute charaben the other mothers make. (Watch around 0:57, where several typical kindergarten charabens are shown being opened, followed by a closeup of Nonchan’s plain-on-the-surface yet pretty sophisticated 6-layer noriben.) I’m not sure if this is just the director’s statement about how food should be, or if there is a growing belief that food should taste good first, and looking cute is not that important. Is there an anti-charaben movement in Japan?

Anyway, I can’t wait to see Nonchan Noriben. Unfortunately, this is the kind of warm-hearted little movie that rarely if ever makes it to a wide release, or any kind of release, outside of Japan (think Torasan). It’s too normal or something I guess. So I will probably have to wait for the DVD to come out, or hope that it’s still in the theatres when I go to Japan in a couple of months. I’ll post a review of it once I have seen it.

(My best friend growing up in suburban Tokyo was called Nonchan, short for Noriko, and of course my name is Maki(ko), so the names Komaki and Nonchan make me smile. I wonder where my Nonchan is now…)

Edit: Translations and explanations of the two bentos in the second video

Since some people asked :)

  • The 6-layer noriben (at around 1:14) consist of, from the top: Nori; plain rice, egg soboro (recipe); rice with yukari (a furikake made by drying the salty-sour red shiso leaves that were used to make umeboshi); spinach with sesame sauce or hourensou no gommae (recipe); and rice with kiriboshi daikon (dried shredded daikon radish, in-depth explanation here) and jako, salted and semi-dried little fish. Sounds like a lot, but as the narration within the movie explains, it’s all made from leftovers in the refrigerator.
  • The “healthy bento that adults would love (low in fat and lower than usual bentos in salt)” (around 1:30 onwards). The rice layers are from the top: Nori; rice with mixed in shake (which translates as salmon, but always means salted salmon - how to make your own) and yukari (see above); nori; rice with edamame, chopped snow peas or mangetout and jako (see above); nori; and rice with stewed hijiki and aburaage (my recipe here adds carrots). This rice is accompanied by stewed renkon (lotus root) and shiitake mushroom; kouya dofu (freeze-dried tofu - detailed explanation here) and carrots with sesame sauce (gommae); and dashimaki tamago, which is tamagoyaki with dashi stock added to the egg mixture. Again, it may sound elaborate, but everything is everyday, inexpensive food in Japan.


  • Nonchan Noriben official web site, in Japanese only (the banner ads at the bottom of the page all lead to companies with product tie-ins…interesting to check out if you’re a bento fan!)
  • The original manga is available in two volumes. You are forewarned that the story just stops in the middle! Volume 1; Volume 2 on Amazon Japan.

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Re: Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

That looks so cute and warm hearted! I found an english subtitled version here (since I only understood a few bits here and there like "Oishii!") -

Will have to watch for it. I have yet to see Okuribito too.

Re: Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

Oh wow, just looking at the diagrams of those noriben is making me drool! I want to try making some right now!! (It's close to midnight where I'm located.) I never thought of making it with that many layers…

Thanks for writing about this movie! Might try to check out the comics some day.

Re: Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

Having not read the manga, I couldn't help but think that the premise is similar to The Ramen Girl. But this looks so much better. ;) I hope the DVD becomes available in the States-- I would love to see it.

Re: Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

lovely post! I am so curious to see this movie now. I'll keep looking in the UK, and perhaps just get the dvd eventually, even if it is only in japanese.

really liked the idea that the audition for the little girls was to eat a bento.

so interesting, thanks!


Re: Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

Wow that looks so cool!

I was wondering what all the descriptions were, if that's not too much of a hassle.



Re: Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

It's nice to see this kind of movies once in a while, involving the issues of everyday life instead of government conspirations, aliens, anime or whatnot.

Given how widespread internet is, I think it's safe to say you could at least find it in youtube (bad quality aside) or available later on in international online stores, so it most probably be within our reach.

This looks like a great movie and as obvious as the message may be, sometimes nice looking bentou doesn't translate to healthy or yummy food. My bentos look like those noriben: plain, food is cut normally and nothing much. Of course pretty looking bentos do make the food more appealing, but from the times I made bentou, the yummiest ones were the plain looking ones since I was careful with the taste rather than the looks.

Re: Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

See and that's really what I appreciate. When I tell people I make bento the people who don't go "What's bento" think charaben. For me food is first and foremost about taste. Any cutesy things I add to it should not impact the taste of the food at all! I can't imagine having to eat some of the bento that people tell me about every day.

Re: Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

Looks great, and makes me feel slack for not bento-ing much recently for my kids. I do have a big stash of nori in my cupboard.

I'm having trouble translating the 6 layer bento, can anyone help me?
Gohan (rice)
Tamago soboro (I think Maki has a recipe somewhere?)
Yukari gohan ??
Horensou no gomae ???
Kiriboshi daikon (dried strips of daikon) and Jyakunomazu gohan (rice of some kind)

Re: Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

My Internet connection @home is ridiculous so I can't watch the Youtube video to help you out right now, but here's a translation of what you have so far…

tamago soboro (= iri tamago?) = sweet super scrambled eggs
yukari gohan = rice with yukari furikake (my personal favourite!)
hourensou no gamaae = boiled/blanched spinach with a dressing made of ground sesame seeds or sesame seed paste, soy sauce, and sugar

Not sure what the last one is.

Will try to check the video @work tomorrow. I've been meaning to take notes anyhow!

Explanations of the 2 bentos in the 2nd video

I've edited the post to add these. Enjoy :)

Re: Explanations of the 2 bentos in the 2nd video

A-ha, I knew I saw the word "hijiki" somewhere when I watched the video! Thanks, Maki!

Re: Nonchan Noriben, a movie about bentos

I saw Noriben at a festival two weeks ago! It made me so happy to be able to go see it :) And it was fun, although the instructional animations went way to fast for me... But you can always rely on the Big Onigiri! ;) Thanks for describing the layers of the bentos. Not that I'm a newbie at this. ;) And of course I'm a veggie. But it's the idea that counts! And I brought a bento to the cinema :))

Come visit at Graasland!

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