At Harkins Valley Art:
The analogy is obvious, but this domestic drama from Japan and Singapore is like a good bowl of soup; it’s warm and nourishing, simple in its appeal yet maybe a more complex piece of craftsmanship than it seems on the surface.
The central character is Masato, played by the Byronic, full-lipped model-turned-actor Takumi Saitoh, who works in the noodle shop of his widowed, emotionally shut-down father Kazuo (Tsuyoshi Ihara) in Takasaki. After a family tragedy, Masato finds the diary of his long-dead Singaporean mother, written in Mandarin, and travels to Singapore to connect with his family there and to learn the art of bak kut teh, the pork-rib soup he hopes to fuse with his father’s ramen (the original title is Ramen Teh, a combination of the two dishes).
Masato connects with a food blogger (Seiko Matsuda), a charming single mom who introduces him to the local cuisine, and with his amiable uncle (Mark Lee), who instructs him in soup-making. Intercut with this we see, in flashback, Kazuo’s courtship of Masato’s breathtaking mother (Jeanette Aw), and the estrangement it sets off between her and her mother (Beatrice Chien). The historical horrors underlying this conflict unobtrusively broaden the scope of the drama without overriding its intimacy.
The Singaporean director, Eric Khoo, has a light touch, so while the pace is appropriately leisurely, the film, which runs an hour and a half, feels tight and economical. The major strength is the cast: the forthright, likable men, and the loving, laughing women, whom Khoo often overtly associates with the Goddess of Mercy.
Another not insignificant source of the movie’s allure is its ogling of mouth-watering food. While Ramen Shop is too earnest to write off as mere food porn, if you go, you may nonetheless want to allow time afterward to hit the nearest Asian soup joint.