Opening 6 Jun 2019
Writing credits: Tan Fong Cheng, Wong Kim Hoh
Principal actors: Tsuyoshi Ihara, Takumi Saitoh, Seiko Matsuda, Jeanette Aw, Mark Lee
Masato (Takumi Saitoh) expertly cooks traditional food in a soup kitchen in Japan. His specialty is ramen noodle soup. The death of his Japanese father, as sad as it is, opens new horizons. He is alone, after already having lost his mother when he was 10 years old. His mother originally came from Singapore, so that Masato was the result of two cultures, Chinese and Japanese. Upon finding helpful proof of his heritage while sorting through old boxes, he decides to trace his roots and go to Singapore, where he becomes acquainted with his uncle Akio (Tetsuya Bessho) – and that side of the family. This leads to intense instruction about Chinese cooking, and soon his Bak Kut The, a pork rib soup without noodles, is even more famous than his ramen soup. All would be well except that his grandmother refuses to accept him. Can a delicious soup break this barrier?
Ramen Shop reminds me of the film The Cakemaker. Here, too, the death of a loved-one leads to a new life. In The Cakemaker Thomas moves to Jerusalem to become famous, making cakes in the restaurant of his sister-in-law. In Ramen Shop Masato moves to Singapore to become an expert making Bak Kut The. Actor Tetsuya Bessho said in an interview, “Food is the fountain of life and this film proves it.” Director Khoo quoted food historian Ben Rogers who said in his book Beef & Liberty, “Food is, after language, the most important bearer of cultural identity.”
Khoo has successfully shown his films in festivals in Venice, Cannes, and Toronto. His film Wanon Mee showed in the culinary cinema section of the 2016 Berlinale, and this film would have fit well into that category also. Don’t watch it on an empty stomach – you’ll be so hungry, while witnessing magic in the kitchen. Even if food is not your thing, the parallel story about the importance of family will leave an impression. The excellent mix of Chinese and Japanese actors is well worth your attention, especially young Takumi Saitoh. With just a minimum of music there is little to disrupt your concentration as he stirs the pot. (Becky Tan)