PFF: Ramen Shop, Woman at War
Ramen Shop (dir. Eric Khoo)
Ramen Shop wins this year’s award for making my eyes get more than just a bit misty. Like Pixar, director Eric Khoo and screenwriters Fong Cheng Tan and Kim Hoh Wong adroitly pluck my heartstrings to create a film in line with that animation studio’s recent short Bao, Coco, or Ratatouille. This film follows Masato (Takumi Saito), a young man living in Japan and working with his father and uncle in their ramen shop. When Masato’s father passes away, the young man uses the opportunity to reconnect with his mother’s family and rediscover his heritage. He was originally born in Singapore, and enlists the help of Japanese food blogger Miki (Seiko Matsuda) to help break through the language barrier and find his mother’s brother, Ah Wee (Mark Lee), who runs a bak kut teh (a pork rib soup) restaurant.
The young chef takes this all in while discovering the rift that drove his mother and grandmother apart–memories of the Japanese occupation were too fresh to allow a Japanese man into their family. Masato learns about the relationship between his parents, and the important role of food in their courtship. While his father has always seemed distant, Masato realizes every dish he made was a way to keep his mother alive. And eventually Masato learns how to bring that forward a generation in a loving tribute to his heritage.
Heritage is an inheritance of family, history, and culture, and Ramen Shop explores that both on the personal level and through the lens of food trends. Ramen is a relatively new dish in Japan, and much of Singapore’s signature foods evolved based on the needs of dock workers and the influence of foreigners. The film deftly weaves in these specific cultural details to Singapore and Japan, but there is a universal truth at play. All of these things mix together on our plates, whether we know it or not, and there’s no way to escape the influence of our personal and social history. Rather we must take ownership of it. In a way, Masato and the meals he cooks represent a sort of healing on a micro scale. It doesn’t erase the atrocities of the past, but allows us to carry forward with an acknowledgement of the past.
Ramen Shop is playing again tonight (Thursday October 25) at the Ritz East at 8PM. Tickets and details.
Woman at War (dir. Benedikt Erlingsson)
Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is a choir director and secretly an eco-warrior. She means to sabotage incoming heavy industry in Iceland as a way to push back against climate change and other environmental outcomes. Hanging in her home are portraits of Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, her inspirational figures in her quest for justice. She is a well-drawn character, and Woman at War succeeds because it grounds everything in Halla (and Geirharðsdóttir’s excellent and moving performance) and not in preaching to us. The views it espouses are Halla’s, and the character’s grit and determination are spotlighted as much as the ideology she fights for.
Of course, things get complicated, but the film’s mix of humor, breathtaking photography in Iceland’s stark landscapes, and lovable characters make this a joy to watch. Other than Geirharðsdóttir (who also plays Halla’s sister, Ása), the film’s most valuable players are two trios of musicians. One is comprised of piano/accordion, drums, and tuba, and the others are singers in traditional costume. They appear on screen in the film, and act as sort of a Greek chorus in how they shape the tone of the film. The music embodies the spirit of the film, making it even more memorable.