Directed by Eric Khoo
Starring Tsuyoshi Ihara, Seiko Matsuda, Takumi Saitoh and Mark Lee
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
“He kept her alive with every bowl of ramen.”
There are things about my parents that are a mystery, particularly my dad. As a child, I was much closer to my mother. Part of this was due to spending countless hours working side by side at her parents’ farmer’s market slinging produce. The other reason was because she tried. For my mom, I think it has always been important for her to share with my brother and me where she came from. Being open like this has helped me understand why she does the things she does – or in some cases does not.
In the film Ramen Shop, Masato (Takumi Saitoh) works at his family’s restaurant. With his mother dying during his formative years, his memory of her is very little. He spent the majority of his life cooking with his father and uncle at the ramen shop. Interestingly, despite working side by side with his father, Masato did not have a lot of insight into who his father actually was until he passed away.
The death of Masato’s father puts the film into motion. After rooting around in an old family closet, Masato happens upon a bunch of old photographs and a journal left behind by his mother. Being raised in Japan, Masato is unable to read his mother’s writing as it is written in Mandarin. His curiosity takes him on a journey to Singapore on a quest to learn more about his family’s history.
Throughout Masato’s adventure he not only devours plates of appetizing food, but also facts about his heritage. Utilizing the photos as his guide, he visits many of the haunts from his parents’ past which leads him to locate his mother’s brother, Uncle Wee (Mark Lee), a well-known restaurateur. My favorite moments of the film were the interactions that Masato has with his Uncle Wee, when he is learning how to make the famously well known family soup. It is the food that connects the family and also allows them to live on even after death. The father utilized his food as a way to keep his wife’s memory alive, and Masato has the same goal - to keep his family close to him via their recipes.
Inevitably, it is also the food that allows Masato into his grandmother’s heart. As Masato visits places of the past, it is learned that his parents’ marriage caused much strain within his mother’s family. Specifically the relationship between his mother and his grandmother. When his grandmother learns that her daughter is seeing a Japanese man, this causes grief, due to the violent actions during the Japanese occupation of Singapore. Due to their marriage, his grandmother disowns his mother, never speaking to her again.
After allowing Ramen Shop to simmer in my brain a bit, I couldn’t help but find there to be an element to the film that gives it almost a TV movie like quality. This was not something that I noticed immediately, as I said, it was something that I stewed upon, especially after discussing the film with my partner in crime, MJ’s Best Boy.
When taking a glance at the twenty three film credits to filmmaker Eric Khoo’s name, the majority seem to be shorts, animated flicks and a sprinkling of TV movies. I can’t speak to the quality of his other movies as I have not seen them and it is not to say that Ramen Shop is not worth a watch – I actually found it rather touching. However, I don’t feel it something that you necessarily need to run out to the cinema to see. There are some great visuals…of food ...but you are not going to miss anything from viewing this on your couch. The soundtrack is nothing to write home about and this mixed with the abundance of food porn could trick you into thinking you are watching a show on the Food Network.
Regardless of this, it is the story that will keep your interest. There is more to Masato’s journey then just discovering who his parents were, it is also about finding his family.