The power of great cooking to serve as a reminder of lost family members is the subject of “Ramen Shop,” a drama from the Singaporean director Eric Khoo that also demonstrates the power of Instagrammable cuisine to spice up an otherwise straightforward, sentimental film.
The movie begins with a search for family — and the recipe for a fondly remembered bak kut teh, a pork rib soup. Masato (Takumi Saitoh), born to a Singaporean mother and a Japanese father, departs Japan after the death of his emotionally distant dad, a celebrated ramen chef in Takasaki. His father strived to create new flavors that blended cultures; he is said to have kept his deceased wife’s memory alive in every bowl. To preserve that tradition, Masato seeks out a long-unseen uncle (Mark Lee) — and his recipe for the Proustian pork rib broth — in Singapore.
A food blogger (Seiko Matsuda) aids him in that search, which means that otherwise pedestrian conversational scenes are enlivened with shots of dishes like fish head curry and digressions on how Pandan leaves are used in Southeast Asian cooking to add flavor and color. The anticipated bak kut teh recipe may tempt viewers to take notes.
“Ramen Shop” is not all as sweet or insubstantial as that summary suggests. It also deals, heavy-handedly, with the legacy of Japan’s occupation of Singapore during World War II — a past that weighs on Masato’s family history. But this gentle film doesn’t linger on horrors too long. It demands only your appetite.
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Stars: Tsuyoshi Ihara, Takumi Saitoh, Seiko Matsuda, Jeanette Aw, Shogen
Running Time:1h 29m
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Not rated. In Japanese, English, Mandarin and Cantonese, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes.