Masato Yamamoto (Takumi Saitoh) is a young man of mixed ancestry. His emotionally distant father, a ramen cook for whom Masato works in the city of Takasaki, is Japanese; his long-deceased mother was Chinese. His parents had met and fallen in love in Singapore, where his father had gone to work in the 1980s and where Masato was born and lived the first ten years of his life.
A major life-changing event leads Masato back to Singapore to learn about his roots and his parents’ unusual early relationship. Back in the city of his youth, Masato encounters Miki, a Japanese expat food blogger (pop idol Seiko Matsuda), and reconnects with his maternal uncle (comedian Mark Lee) and other relatives. Through them he learns of the obstacles his parents encountered to realize their love and the long held bitter feelings of some against his father because of Japanese atrocities during World War II against the Chinese. He also learns about Singaporean cuisine and secret family recipes.
Director Eric Khoo, who was born in Singapore, is a major figure in that country’s film industry. His films were that country’s first to be invited to major international festivals, and he has been nominated for and has won several awards. With Ramen Shop, he has crafted a well structured and a touching tale. Masato’s return is interspersed with flashback scenes that gradually reveal vital information about his heritage. It’s a wonderful movie about family relationships, reconciliation, and forgiveness. And, oh yes, it’s also about food, most particularly Bak Kut Teh or pork rib soup.
As an aside, let me mention that, having grown up at a time when double features were common, I enjoy “fantasy programming” them. Ramen Shop would be prefect with either Juzo Itami’s 1985 ramen western Tampopo (1985) or with Koki Shigeno’s documentary Ramen Heads (2017)
Ramen Shop opens this year’s JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film on July 19. The screening marks the North American Premiere of the film. There will be an introduction and Q&A with director Eric Khoo and star Takumi Saitoh. The screening will be followed by the Opening Night Party. Please note that this opening night screening is sold out. A waitlist will begin at the Box Office one hour prior to the screening. Being on the waitlist does not guarantee admission.
This review has been cross-posted at AsianCineFest.