Ramen Shop

Masato (Takumi Saitoh) has craved his father’s attention but the old man, a grieving and lonely widower for a year, dies suddenly. This sparks the son to learn more about his origins, and his beloved late mother, as he journeys to Singapore to find his roots in “Ramen Shop.”

Laura's Review: B

In the city of Takasaki, Masato Yamamoto (Takumi Saitô) works in his taciturn dad’s ramen shop wishing he got as much attention as the famous entree. But when Kazuo Yamamoto (Tsuyoshi Ihara) suddenly drops dead behind its counter, Masato begins to go through his things, finding old photos of he and his mother in Singapore and his late mom’s journal. It is written in Mandarin which Masato cannot read and so he packs up and heads to Singapore on a culinary journey that will lead him back to family in “Ramen Shop.” It’s too bad the title of Singaporean director Eric Khoo’s has been homogenized for English language audiences as the original title, “Ramen Teh,” refers to the melding of two cultures’ famous dishes, Singapore’s Bak Kut Teh and Japan’s Ramen, into one, just like its protagonist. After watching a mouth watering bowl of ramen being prepared during opening credits, we see that Masato keeps tabs on the food culture of the place where he was born, chatting on line with a culinary blogger who sends him spices. It is she, Miki (Seiko Matsuda), who guides the young man with a backpack, taking him for a bowl of Bak Kut Teh, the pork rib soup created by Chinese laborers, and it is she who helps him in his quest to find his mother’s brother. It was his kindly paternal uncle Akio (Tetsuya Bessho) who told him that his father thought his mother ‘a goddess,’ and as Masato reacquaints himself with Singapore, we are treated to his parents’ courtship via flashback, seeing the man who shut down after her death blossoming in her presence in life. Khoo’s movie was originally conceived to celebrate 50 years of diplomacy between Singapore and Japan, but as Masato learns, their history was ugly under Japanese occupation, and older generations, like the grandmother he has never met who became estranged from her daughter Mei Lian (Jeanette Aw) when she married his father, have not forgotten. The film acquires a comic edge when Masato locates his gregarious Uncle Wee (Mark Lee), a real comedian. Wee attempts a meeting with Grandmother Lee (Beatrice Chien) who proclaims the young stranger ‘handsome, like a Korean idol!’ But when she learns his identity, the door is slammed in his face. Masato attempts a humble culinary mediation and the results are heartwarming, Proustian shared memory. At its core, “Ramen Shop” is a parallel cross-culinary courtship across time and space. Kevin Matthews’ treacly score is an unwelcome distraction, but the film’s emotional power sneaks up on you. Grade:

Robin's Review: B

I watched the trailer for “Ramen Shop” and, after seeing it, my reaction was, “Meh.” Laura pointed out that the music used, filled with treacle and sentimentality, was the reason for my reaction. That said, I persevered and watched this charming little tome about a young man’s journey to find his true self – primarily, through food. After Masato’s father’s passing, he goes through the old man’s belongings which include a camera, a Daruma wish doll and his late mother’s diary. The journal, he learns, contains not just her recipes but the story of sorrow of a woman whose own Chinese mother disowned her for marrying a Japanese man and the loneliness and pain of that parting. This leads Masato on a trek, to Singapore, to find his mother’s family and the recipe for the very special Pork Rib Soup. This dual adventure is about both family and food, in equal proportions. The story of a family reunited is heartening but the foodie-movie fan in me loved the vittles being prepared and savored.