Film: Ramen Heads
There’s a restaurant in Austin Texas, a ramen restaurant, that always has an absurd line around the front and side of the building. Being that I have a bit of a snobby streak, I was immediately turned off and pushed the thought of a visit out of my mind until the line was more “reasonable.” Sure, the line signified a delicious experience, but it wasn’t until after I watched Ramen Heads that I understood there is much more behind the line than an extensive wait time.
In this new film by Koki Shigeno, Ramen Heads follows Osamu Tomita as he opens up his restaurant and spirit behind the dish, a dive into the cultural dominance ramen has on the country. There is also a healthy dose of examinations of other chefs and their distinct version of the traditional meal, leaving the audience craving fulfillment on the subject.
Right from the beginning, Shigeno and Tomita unfold the emotional connect ramen has on both chef and patron. It’s hard not to draw similarities to both chicken soup and the film Like Water for Chocolate, and the film becomes much less of a regional documentary than a cultural connectivity we have with tradition. The tone is secured by the captivating line, “If the person making the ramen is happy, the end result will be happiness.”
It goes beyond the chef, though, even if your respect for Tomita and his accomplishments in the food genre continue to grow throughout the film. The variety of ramen dishes is extensive, but it’s always honorable and representative of the chef behind the recipes. It’s fascinating to witness, but what blew me away more was the modest price Tomita charges. It truly proves that you are engaging an audience to travel down a food journey with the outcome being joy, price doesn’t have to be extravagant. This also goes for the chefs who want to keep their recipes secret, which Tomita points out; the ones that hide ingredients are nothing fancy, and the ones that are fancy have nothing to hide.
The world of ramen isn’t only broken down in the dish itself in Ramen Heads, but in every detail that surrounds it. Ramen isn’t a for-the-masses dish, it’s about the individual and the restaurant area that reflects that. With so much detail going into the meal, each one is different, prepared for the person at that time, which explains why these shops are small and restrictive. This opened my eyes to the Austin shop, and my snobbiness melted away to be replaced by respect. A traditional ramen place doesn’t focus on the scratch portion of the meal, but the unique experience available.
One important detail that is clarified is the origin story behind the dish. It may have been built out of one of Japan’s darkest moments in her history, but that does not mean that defines the present. The dish, like the country, evolved into something unique, strong and varied, the ever evolving piece in a constantly moving world. Your past does not dictate your future, but it does influence its trajectory.
Ramen Heads is a journey through the exquisite world of ramen, enveloping the audience in its delicious cuisine, but also it is the compassionate energy that rests just below the surface. The audience will leave wanting ramen, without a doubt, but also with the feeling of hope, that the journey of a foodie can lead to unexpected inner growth.
“Ramen…the deeply — satisfying object of desire. Now, I want you more than ever.”
Ramen Heads open in Austin Texas at Alamo Drafthouse, South Lamar on Friday, April 13th.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by GUNPOWERED & SKY