Filmmaker Eric Khoo brings all the feels and much of the food in Ramen Teh (or Ramen Shop, if you prefer), an adorable mini-opus dedicated to family, cultural exchange and pressures, and the healing power of shared food.
Masato (Takumi Saitoh) is adrift, a young man who works days in his father's famous ramen shop in Japan, where he's given little responsibility, and spends nights trying to concoct one-of-a-kind recipes using styles and spices from his dead mother's homeland of Singapore. When his father dies, however, he discovers his mom's journal and a cache of forgotten photos. Choosing to leave Japan behind, Masato traces his maternal roots, embarking on a perilous reckoning with the past and learning a thing or two about the coming-together of culinary styles. But when his grandmother on his mother's side refuses to accept him, Masato must harness the power of delicious ramen to do right by himself and put to rest decades of bad blood. Told through a combination of present-day happenings and flashbacks that flesh out his parents' story, Khoo doles out revelations quietly but sweetly.
Khoo's vision is, at times, glorious, particularly as Masato finds long-lost family or deals with buried memories. Saitoh is subtly excellent, a disarming smile here and a painstaking meal preparation there, but always with a quiet hurt bubbling up from someplace dark. Where Ramen Teh truly shines, however, is in its depictions of disparate Asian foods. Often, such food-based films put the edibles in the background and focus solely on the interpersonal relationships, but here we truly feel like we're learning something or, at least, get a sudden hankering for noodles, and it properly proves that food can bring us together like almost nothing else.
This makes it easier to take the slow pace and so-so acting from some of the supporting cast, because even if we sometimes wish Masato would just get to it already, we can't help but feel for him as a prodigal son of sorts. And then, someplace between the sweeping drone shots of Japanese neighborhoods, the seemingly strange but objectively mouth-watering dishes and the clear respect for talented chefs, we find a simple story told well, and it feels so nice.
+The food; Saitoh
-Kinda slow; some silly performances
Directed by Khoo
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 89 min.