Ramen Shop

April 26, 2019

in Movies

Film (2018)

Directed by Eric Khoo
Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge, MA

With Tsuyoshi Ihara (Kazuo), Seiko Matsuda (Miki), Takumi Saitoh (Masato), Jeanette Aw (Mei Lian)

Tsuyoshi Ihara as Kazuo, Jeanette Aw as Mei Lan in 'Ramen Shop'

Tsuyoshi Ihara as Kazuo
Jeanette Aw as Mei Lan
in “Ramen Shop”
Image: Courtesy of Strand Releasing

With Tsuyoshi Ihara (Kazuo), Seiko Matsuda (Miki), Takumi Saitoh (Masato), Jeanette Aw (Mei Lian)

A drama about a young man who seeks reconciliation with his past through a food connection.

Masato (Takumi Saitoh), a young Japanese man, works with his father, Kazuo (Tsuyoshi Ihara), in a successful ramen shop. His mother has died, but many questions remain about her past. When the father’s situation changes, the young man finds himself seeking answers about his mother’s family in Singapore.

This sweet, food-based film, has many virtues. Its editing is great, especially of some of the wonderful ramen and soup fabrication scenes. The soundtrack is unexpected, a kind of light French coming-of-age sound that one might have heard in the Sixties. And there are some compelling performances.

The script is a bit all over the place. What looks like it might be a story about the young man and his father then all of a sudden takes a turn. A bit of the narrative that involves the young man’s paternal uncle also dwindles down peremptorily. The young man contacts a food-blogger, Miki (Seiko Matsuda), in Singapore and somehow she makes various connections with the mother’s family. The scene shifts and the whole narrative focuses on the story of the dead mother, Mei Lian (Jeannette Aw), and her surviving family in Singapore.

The film flips back and forth between present and past, showing the mother’s and father’s relationship in poignant detail. The actors who play them are very good, even though the scenes in which they appear are preternaturally rose-colored overall.

Nonetheless, given the dramatic tensions that develop later on as a result of the boy’s discovering something about his Chinese mother’s family in Singapore, covers the cathartic corners enough to enable the parents’ very sweet encounter to get offset reasonably effectively.

Masato’s relationship with the food-blogger, Miki, is a curious plot device, but, apart from having a preternatural glow about it, it’s not exactly clear where on the overall relationship spectrum its meant to fall.

A serious historical interchange frames some of the family conflict, and how that gets worked out is interesting and compelling to a degree. There’s a bit of a sudden denouement which is a bit less subtle than it might be, but it still is moving in its own way.

A lot of the plot in Singapore surrounds the boy’s learning how to cook a certain kind of soup – Chinese soup, not Japanese ramen – that his mother used to cook. The cooking lesson is endearing, but some of the outcome is a bit too overdone and winds up being mawkish.

Overall: a sweet and somewhat compelling story, a lot of nice food-related footage, an appealing if oddly-matched soundtrack, some great editing, and a few very good performances.


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