Review: <i>Slurrrrppp</i> — ‘Ramen Heads’ doc is a rapt ode to noodles
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.
In Japanese with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Landmark NuArt, West L.A.
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