You will leave this exquisite documentary about Tokyo ramen master Masamoto Ueda with a full heart and a hankering for chashu ramen.
Director (and writer and cinematographer) John Daschbach, with his first feature documentary, knows how to build a story. For the first few minutes, we just see Masamoto preparing ingredients for the three kinds of ramen he makes in his restaurant Bizentei in Chiyoda City in Japan. He keeps it simple, devised his own recipes and sees the restaurant as something that saved him from a troubled past. He doesn’t believe in trends and has been serving the same dishes for 40 years.
People keep coming back and at first it’s all about the ramen. Regulars talk about their preferences – soy-based ramen is the most Japanese, according to Takashi Tanaka who is a fanatic and eats 5-600 bowls of ramen a year. One regular ordered chashu ramen on his first two visits and then was automatically served it every time by Masamoto (or Master as many call him), too embarrassed to decline such a kind gesture. They wax lyrical about the gentle flavour of the broth and the way the pork melts in your mouth.
We see Masamoto and his wife Kazuko outside of the restaurant and get a sense of the strength of their marriage and exactly what those troubled times were in Masamoto’s youth. And then you realise that what is remarkable about this restaurant is not the food but the friendship. Strangers are welcomed in, regulars invited to help pick pears or make rice cakes, solace given during hard times and matches made through gentle encouragement – “If Master says he is a kind man, then he must be a good man.”
There is something very simple and elemental about Masamoto and Kazuko’s lives, an acceptance of time and a belief in serving the community. It’s hard not to feel emotional as each individual opens up about what it means to them to have a place to go where they feel held and nurtured. I was left with a sense of hopefulness (and a yearning for ramen).
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.