In Koki Shigeno’s Ramen Heads, the homey Japanese comfort food is lovingly explored, revealing the complex quintessence of broth and noodle. The documentary focuses on Osamu Tomita, the preeminent ramen chef in Japan and winner of three consecutive end-of-the-year awards for best ramen in the land.
We delve into Tomita’s kitchen and learn his ramen techniques and philosophies, from slow-simmered broths to snappy and succulent noodles made with four types of flour. The second act of the film traverses Japan, visiting other ramen chefs to showcase their signature styles, which differ radically from Tomita’s. The final act returns to follow Tomita on his day off, and then document the melding of minds as he and two other masters of ramen dream up a fitting dish to serve at Tomita’s 10th anniversary celebration.
Ramen Heads is mostly a day-in-the-life-of style documentary. Shigeno asks some questions of Tomita and his other subjects, like the men who work in his shop and later members of his family, but the vast majority of the footage is observing Tomita and the other Ramen Heads practicing their expertise. The middle of the film has a cute little animated segment that surveys a basic history of ramen, but it feels a little out of place 2/3rds of the way through the film. Regardless, it is a nice stylistic departure.
More than anything else, Ramen Heads is a sublime second-hand experience of another’s passion. Witnessing Tomita gush about ramen is infectious, whether he’s explaining why certain ingredients are in his broth, or marveling over subtle differences between batches of his noodles. And just when you thought that Ramen Heads has completely explored the depths of the world of ramen, obsessing over every recondite detail of Tomita’s dish, the film reveals completely distinct styles of ramen.
What begins as a cute curiosity with a niche cuisine blooms into a mind-blowing and expansive world that will certainly recruit a few more patrons into the ranks of the ramen heads.
Thursday, May 4, 5:45 PM, Scotiabank
Friday, May 5, 10:15 AM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, May 6, 10:45 AM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday, May 7, 12:00 PM, Hart House
Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.