POV: The Birth of Sake

About This Episode

“Saké making is a living thing. If you compare it to human beings it would be like raising a child.” And not just any child. The employees of Yoshida Brewery bring traditional saké to life by pampering it from inception with absolutely no shortcuts. All told, employees, ranging in age from 20 to 70, spend about half a year in nearly monastic seclusion creating this world-renowned product.

Two years in the making, The Birth of Sake is the first in-depth examination of the Yoshida operation and a rare look at the intense and relatively unknown (even within Japan) process of traditional saké making. Gaining access was not immediate or easy; after a long and exhaustive permissions process, the company’s owners allowed the filmmakers to live at the brewery.

Currently, stiff competition and the eventual retirement of experienced workers intensify the pressure of preserving quality of taste, tradition and brand reputation for Yoshida. Surrounded by 1,000 competitors, the brewery must surface as a worthy contender in a market overrun by choices. While the narrative follows Yoshida’s energy and ambition to survive, the characters remain central to the storytelling. As artisans who must dedicate their whole lives to the making of this world-class saké, their private sacrifices are often sizable and unseen.