Ramen Shop is the story of a young man who tries to discover and reunite with his mother’s family through his love of food. The story plays out as an ode to both Japanese and Singaporean food but is also interspersed with themes of family, identity, history and love. Masato (Takumi Saitoh), the main character, takes a trip following the sudden death of his father in an attempt to find out about both his deceased parents. He travels from Japan to SIngapore in search of both the relatives he remembers from the short time he lived there- and also the food, which reminds him strongly of his late mother. He is helped by his guide once he arrives, who runs a blog focusing on dishes that are native to Singapore. The blog serves as Masato’s introduction to the world of Singaporean food that he hopes will eventually bring him closer to his family.
Although Masato’s story is the main plot, the film is interspersed with flashbacks of his parents’ love story. Their story is also told through food as his father discovered Singaporean food through his mother and she discovered Japanese cuisine through him. Interestingly, the film also touches on the difficult history of the Japanese in Singapore through their relationship, shedding light on a part of history that is not often portrayed on screen. However, the flashbacks are also the weakest points of this film. At times, there is a strain to create a connection between Masato’s current journey and the journey that his parents took once they fell in love. It seems like the film is often trying to overtly tie together the pieces of the story together to achieve a satisfying ending rather than delve into the deeper issues faced by his parents in the past, and by Masato in the present.
Food is used in this film as another character, as it plays such an important role in the plot and also in the development of the characters. The film showcases the specific characteristics of both Japanese and Singaporean food and also explores the history and development of the cuisine in both countries. Interestingly, much of the plot of the film is advanced through food as it brings people together. Additionally, throughout the film, the food serves as a metaphor for the action that is taking part in the main plot, primarily Masato’s journey in reuniting with his family. His relationship with the food is often mirrored with the person who he is cooking or eating with.
Overall, Ramen Shop is a conventional romantic story intertwined with the story of a young man who is trying to find himself. By immersing himself in the cultures of both his mother and his father, Masato learns who he really is and begins to understand his parents better than he ever did when they were alive. However, what seems to be an interesting and complex story is often diminished by convenient plotting that can often be striving for a happy ending. The star of the film is the food itself, which is shot beautifully and creates a richer picture of both Singaporean and Japanese culture. In a unique style, the food is used to represent the plot as it often mirrors that action taking place on the screen, which is both aesthetically pleasing and a great storytelling device.
Ramen Shop opens in NY at the IFC Centre and The Landmark at 57w on March 22nd
by Aleena Augustine
Aleena is a Classics graduate who splits her time between High Wycombe (just outside of London) and wherever the latest film or TV show she is bingeing is set. She enjoys watching rom-coms (they are not just a guilty pleasure), coming of age films (from John Hughes to Greta Gerwig), animated films (cries at every single one), comedies featuring a strong female ensemble (thank you, Bridesmaids) and psychological thrillers (BONUS if they’re directed by David Fincher). Her favourite films are Before Sunrise, Inside Out, Zodiac and When Harry Met Sally. You can also find her on her blog, That’s What She Said and as a contributor for the music blog, Music Bloggery.