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article imageReview: ‘Ramen Heads’ takes soup to a new level at Hot Docs Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 28, 2017 in Entertainment
Foodies can add “slurpability” to their vocabularies after watching the world premiere of the Japanese documentary ‘Ramen Heads’ at Hot Docs.
While eating is an unavoidable necessity of sustained life, it has evolved into much more. In the West, where opulence abounds, food is often treated as something to be experienced by all the senses rather than just the means to satisfying a basic need. Competitions and ratings are used to determine local, national and world’s best, and long waits to taste these culinary masterpieces are expected rather than reviled. Consequently the food documentary has gained momentum in recent years, taking audiences into the kitchens of the world’s elite or behind the scenes of the most renowned contests. This year the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival presents a film called Ramen Heads, which refers to a specific type of food fandom.
Director Koki Shigeno takes viewers on a tour of Japan, specifically to the country’s most prominent ramen eateries. Providing an intimate portrait of the country’s reigning ramen king, Osamu Tomita, the film explores his dedication to the art of cooking. Filmmakers are provided unprecedented access to the ramen chef’s restaurant, kitchen and home, where he demonstrates his talent for delicious soup comes from instinct and can therefore not be taught or betrayed by the camera. The first half of the documentary evolves into a list of the best ramen restaurants around Japan, comparing Tomita’s style with some of his older counterparts. The documentary then explains the history of the dish and the differences between the four key types of ramen — shio, shoyu, miso and tonkotsu — before returning to Tomita’s preparations for the 10th anniversary of his restaurant.
Over a 15-month period the film comes full circle, beginning and ending with Tomita accepting his third and fourth award for the best ramen in Japan. In between, he shares his philosophy and the pain-staking, hours-long process of making all the elements of his soup in-house, including multiple broths that he combines to make each day’s serving. When compared to some of the other more experienced ramen chefs, Tomita’s methods seem quite extreme and in some cases comparable to Hell’s Kitchen’s Gordon Ramsay. On the other hand, he is incredibly passionate about his cooking and can eat an inordinate amount of ramen in spite of spending most days immersed in the production of the perfectly slurpable soup. Shigeno only provides a glimpse of some of the country’s other master ramen makers, but their stories seem at least as interesting… even if their personalities aren’t quite as loud.
The world premiere of Ramen Heads is screening as part of the “Made in Japan” program at Hot Docs in Toronto.
Director: Koki Shigeno
More about Hot docs, Ramen Heads, Documentary, Ramen, Koki Shigeno
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