Film Review: Ramen Heads (2017).

Ramen Heads

Ramen Heads_Press Still_2, CinemAsia Film Festival 2018.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ – 3.5/5.

Author: Sofia Murell | Runtime: 93 min. | Director: Koki Shigeno | Year: 2017

As a foodie and film lover, I HAD to see this documentary about ‘Ramen King’ Osamu Tomita and his obsessive passion for the perfect ramen. While addressing the value of such a simple dish like ramen and the hard-work behind it, the film made very hungry.

This documentary is the debut feature of director Koki Shigeno who is known for his television documentaries regarding distinguished chefs from Japan and France.

Ramen Heads (2017) depicts the dedication and meticulous labour that goes into preparing ramen in Tomita’s small shop located in Matsudo, Chiba. His ramen has won the prestigious “Best Ramen of the Year” award for four years in a row, making him the ‘Ramen King’ of Japan. In 2016, he celebrated his 10 year anniversary and decided to make a limited edition dish with the help of other top ramen-chefs. The ‘Ramen King’ opens his door and reveals the process behind his renowned ramen, for which people queue up from early in the morning and travel long distances just to taste the characteristic and savoury ramen of the grandmaster.

The documentary’s humour and self-conscious narrative portray ramen as a delicacy with its own sub-culture that would be impossible to understand unless you are a ‘ramen head’ yourself as the narrator claims. Ramen Heads refers to other famous ramen shops and ramen masters. It addresses what ramen means to Japan today and combines real footage with animation. Because of the documentary’s style in which the narrator expresses his opinion about, for example, the surprising clothing fashion of Tomita or his particular teaching methods, the transition to an animated history of ramen doesn’t seem abrupt or out of place. In addition to the narrator’s humour, Tomita’s personality allows a fluid passage into the animated segment and other film shot techniques.

In this documentary, the viewer becomes acquainted with the art of ramen-making through beautiful and serious mouth-watering slow-motion film shots of food, people eating, and the detailed work that Tomita performs – from the selection of the broth’s ingredients to the thought-process behind each particular ramen dish. The film also features interviews with various top ramen chefs and the loyal and fanatic customers of Tomita who go to his shop every day – and they’d do that forever. Besides revealing us his behind-the-scene recipes, the ramen king shows us a glimpse of his private life, his ramen philosophy and what he searches for in ramen, but also what he aims to achieve when he prepares ramen, and the amount of “slurpability” he is looking for when you eat his dishes. He is always thinking of ramen and even on his days off he takes his family to other ramen shops. As he states, he doesn’t drink nor does he smoke – he eats ramen.

Ramen Heads is a homage and love letter to ramen. It’s inevitable to not to think of other incredible food films while watching it. I would add this documentary to the ‘foodie’s film list’ that includes one of my all-time favourite fiction films Tampopo (1985), and the crème de la crème in ramen-making, the non-fiction film The God of Ramen (2013). Ramen Heads is a foodporn paradise that with every second increases one’s appetite.

Genre: Documentary | Language: Japanese | Distributors: FilmBuff (USA), Midship (Japan). Shown at: CinemAsia Film Festival

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