“Good food leaves people speechless.”
This is a quote from Koki Shigeno’s “Ramen Heads” that has stuck with me because it describes perfectly the experience of watching the film. Not to discredit myself as someone who is chatty or restless when watching a movie, but we are of a world that rarely allows for total stillness and attention. When sitting for this film with my partner I became suddenly aware that neither of us had spoken, shuffled in our seat, or done anything but watch in rapt attention. We were both mesmerized by the beautiful shots of food and fascinated by the process. You know a film about ramen has done its job when you start googling where to go get ramen for dinner afterwards.
“Ramen Heads” marks the directorial debut of Koki Shigeno and the film has already made a splash as an Official Selection of HotDocs 2017, the Denver Film Festival, and others.
The film follows Chef Osamu Tomita, the critically-dubbed “Ramen King,” as he crafts his signature ramen for his restaurant and then prepares to celebrate his 10-year anniversary of opening said restaurant with something truly special. Along the way, Shigeno takes us behind the curtain of other legendary ramen shops and into the craft of other famous chefs, culminating in an intimate but thorough view of the world of ramen and the craft of those who make it well.
“Comfort food” is a phrase that comes to mind as I reflect on “Ramen Heads.” “Comfort food” may be a bit deceiving because we often think of comfort food as something that is simple, hearty, and nostalgic but not necessarily elevated. Ramen is, in many ways, a comfort food. It is hearty and common. But when I think of “Ramen Heads,” the connection I make to comfort food is in the sense that it is something lovingly made and joyfully consumed. The film shows us shot after shot of joyful faces enjoying ramen. As we said out the outset, “good food leaves people speechless.” There’s a simple pleasure in enjoying a good meal and it’s something we all understand. “Ramen Heads” captures that feeling of ramen as something evocative of joy; an experience that can go a step beyond just satisfying a hunger.
Beyond that is the incredible work of the chefs. “Ramen Heads” is a whirlwind culinary tour of the history of a favorite dish. It takes us through various nuances and styles and incarnations of the popular dish. Ramen is as unique and complex as the individuals that make it. It’s a joy to see the painstaking care that each and every chef, famed or humble, takes in their dish. It’s a labor of love that is highlighted beautifully. Osamu Tomita is equal parts stern teacher, rockstar, and the kind of guy you’d like to sit and have a meal with. It’s fascinating to see how “regular guys” can really turn it on, for their craft. Tomita approaches every minute detail of the whole dish with scientific precision and all the flair of a conductor. It was damn interesting to watch and so endearing. I couldn’t help being reminded of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and its depiction of the subtle master. There’s something so spellbinding about watching an individual truly work in their element. That was the core of “Ramen Heads.”
“Ramen Heads” was a warm and delightful experience, like a good ramen broth for the soul. Definitely worth checking out! For more information on where to see the film visit www.ramenheadsfilm.com.
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. Bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.