Starring Takumi Saitoh. In English, Japanese, and Mandarin, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
One look at titles like Wanton Mee, Recipe, and 1995 breakthrough Mee Pok Man suggests that the Singapore-based writer-director Eric Khoo is singularly obsessed with food. It’s a good thing he documents its preparation and its cultural implications so well, because his other storytelling skills aren’t so hot.
This declaration is not intended to discourage viewers from visiting Ramen Shop, Khoo’s tale of a young Japanese chef rediscovering his multiethnic Asian roots; just know that you need an open mind and a full stomach to get real satisfaction from it.
Mid-20s heartthrob Takumi Saitoh is mop-haired Masato, perennial understudy to his gruff dad at the most popular ramen house in Takasaki, a midsize city in central Japan.
Tsuyoshi Ihara, the equestrian nobleman in Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima, plays Kazuo, who has had little to say to his son since being widowed some years earlier.
Masato was actually born in Singapore, and knows that his late mom (Jeanette Aw, seen in honeyed flashbacks) was Chinese. He’s driven to learn more when Kazuo suddenly dies, and returns to his birthplace to search for remaining family and find out more about the food that held them together for a while.
The cast includes Seiko Matsuda (who’s done voice work on King of the Hill, among other western projects) as an older food blogger who becomes Masato’s informal guide when the action switches to Singapore.
Elderly Beatrice Chien is lovable as the Cantonese grandmother whose resentment of the Second World War’s Japanese occupation forces the lad to recognize some unpleasant truths about his country’s 20th-century history.
Unfortunately, the dialogue and plot twists are tritely predictable, the musical score underlines syrupy sentiment, and the math on the generations depicted doesn’t quite add up.
On the other hand, the lovingly shot 90-minute movie’s real star is the pork-rib soup—a poverty-stricken recipe, born of necessity like many national dishes—Masato attempts to master, thus uniting past and present in one easily transportable bowl of meaningful flavour.