Ramen Heads

Ramen Heads

2018, NR, 93 min. Directed by Koki Shigeno. Starring Osamu Tomita, Shôta Iida, Kumiko Ishida, Katsuya Kobayashi.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 13, 2018

Food trends come and go, but the foodie documentary boom shows no signs of going bust. It’s a genre niche so popular and prolific it’s sprouted niches of its own: the food competition doc (Kings of Pastry, Barista, Somm), the mission-driven food doc (Food, Inc.), the chef profile (I Like Killing Flies, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent), the food-and-travel porn sandwich (Chef’s Table, Somebody Feed Phil, Ugly Delicious, all on Netflix). The Japanese-language Ramen Heads spoons out a little bit of everything in its ode to that borders-hopping, now-ubiquitous bowl of comfort food.

Ramen Heads employs the same religiosity with which most contemporary food docs approach their subjects; when early on the narrator likens the act of eating ramen to “a feeling like the warm, glowing memory of a lover,” you’ll know right away if this is the right kind of movie for you. And why not get holy about a humble soup some men (they’re usually men) have spent their whole lives trying to perfect? Director Koki Shigeno zeros in on one particular chef, Osamu Tomita, and his out-of-the-way ramen shop, Tomita Ramen in the city of Matsudo, that is regularly voted the best in Japan. On a granular level, Ramen Heads can be quite absorbing; in a 10-seat restaurant that patrons line up hours in advance to cram into, Shigeno’s camera provides the kind of access most of us will never enjoy, including a behind-the-scenes look at a master sweating his dashi. What the camera can’t convey is the mouthwateringness of the thing. One of the boons of the foodie doc boom is how artfully fawning food cinematography has gotten. Frankly, ramen should look better than this.

If Tomita Ramen is Mount Olympus, then the structurally scattershot and aesthetically clunky Ramen Heads is rooted more in the weeds. Shigeno assumes of the audience an intermediate-level understanding of ramen until fully halfway through, when his film suddenly stops for a tonally wacky, animated romp through the dish’s history and cultural importance. The asides to other ramen masters might have been better integrated; same with the back-end focus on Tomita Ramen’s 10th anniversary, an event that feels like an afterthought, and a missed opportunity in terms of the narrative’s build. And, amidst a soundtrack that effectively incorporates familiar classical music tracks, what I think is Natsumi Tabuchi’s original theme music, heavy on the snare drum and cymbal, is dispatched incongruently and overloudly, with all the self-serious pomp of a national anthem piped in at a medal ceremony. Inelegant but not uninteresting, Ramen Heads is a bronze contender at best.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More by Kimberley Jones
<i>Chronicle</i> News Editor Changing of the Guard
Chronicle News Editor Changing of the Guard
Outro Chase Hoffberger, intro Mike Clark-Madison

Oct. 18, 2018

Austin Music Awards Announces First Honorees of 2019 Ceremony
Austin Music Awards Announces First Honorees
Alejandro Escovedo, Dianne Scott to be fêted at Feb. 27 AMAs

Oct. 17, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Ramen Heads, Koki Shigeno, Osamu Tomita, Shôta Iida, Kumiko Ishida, Katsuya Kobayashi

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle