Review: <i>Slurrrrppp</i> — ‘Ramen Heads’ doc is a rapt ode to noodles

Chef Osamu Tomita in the documentary "Ramen Heads."
Chef Osamu Tomita in the documentary “Ramen Heads.”
(Gunpowder and Sky)

Japan’s heartiest culinary export gets its worshipful due in director Koki Shigeno’s documentary “Ramen Heads,” a brisk if uneven celebration of the soup-and-noodle staple that will nevertheless have you scheduling a post-viewing trip to your closest bowlful.

Shigeno’s focus is on award-winning master Osamu Tomita and his wildly popular place in Matsudo, Japan. Famed for his gravy-thick pork-and-dried-fish broth blend (tonkotsu gyokai) and hand-made dipping noodles that use four different flours, Tomita is an instinctual, strict obsessive who attracts like-minded devotees from hundreds of miles away, lining up in the dead of night for one of 10 seats inside.

Both a long-form commercial and cramped-kitchen stakeout of an eccentric, this extended portrait has its charms, although Shigeno’s artier touches — staged slo-mo reveries à la “Chef’s Table” and a crudely animated history of ramen as a worker’s meal turned diverse canvas — don’t fare as well.

But, thankfully, there are also stopovers to check out other longstanding purveyors: a septuagenarian shoyu traditionalist whose tiny stall serves 700 bowls a day, the niboshi (sardine broth) specialist who kneads, monk-like, with his eyes closed, and Onishi Yuki, whose Tsuta became the first Michelin-starred ramen restaurant.


When it comes to eating in Japan, nothing may ever top the exquisite rush of “Tampopo,” but for a movie designed to honor the unexpected depths of a cultural hallmark, “Ramen Heads” does achieve, to borrow the ultimate standard of ramen quality, enough satisfying slurpability.


‘Ramen Heads’

In Japanese with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Playing: Landmark NuArt, West L.A.

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