Hot Docs 2017 ‘Ramen Heads’

Ramen Heads(2016), directed by Koki Shigeno, is a sumptuous visual feast into the world of Ramen seen through the eyes of one of Japan’s most celebrated Ramen chefs, Osamu Tomita, and his rags to riches story; a Japanese boy from Ibaraki without focus and any talents who decides to learn how to cook ramen, succeeds, and goes on to phenomenal success. Ramen like Gyoza, Okonomiyaki, Yakisoba noodles are staples of Japanese cuisine but Osamu Tomita has elevated the inexpensive fast food to new culinary heights and has kept his dish affordable to the Japanese consumer. Ramen is a delicious bowl of either meat or fish-based broth flavoured with or without soy or miso and served with Chinese-style wheat noodles and layered with various toppings such as slices of pork, dried seaweed, and green onion. The film is sub-titled.

I loved the opening shot where the camera follows a random Japanese man through a warren of tunnels than switches to a random Japanese female that leads us to a Ramen shop. Shigeno, like Tomita himself, spares no attention to detail and beautifully films the techniques Osamu and other Ramen chefs use to prepare a steaming bowl of Ramen such as the careful preparation of the broth and use of ingredients, to the technique of shaking the water from the noodles after they are done cooking, to the slicing of chashu (pork belly), and to the layering of toppings such as slices of pork, seaweed, green onion, and other garnishes. The film includes an Anime story of the history of Ramen which is not only educational but delightful and is very apropos to understanding the evolution of Ramen in Japanese society. I particularly loved the close ups of the various ramen dishes and was disappointed not to see my favourite Ramen dish, Niko Niku Ramen, featured. I enjoyed the first person interviews with other notable Ramen chefs and watching them prepare their signature Ramen dish. Shigeno succeeds in creating a multi-faceted and intimate portrait of Osamu Tomita, the Ramen Chef, the boss, the family man, and the respected colleague, and created a wonderful primer into the world of Ramen.

When I was living in Japan, there was nothing more satisfying than a bowl of Ramen to lift my spirits from an exhausting day of teaching or to warm my belly on a cold winter’s day. Although I never mastered the art of slurping (sliding the noodles down your throat without chewing), I did master the art of using chopsticks which amazed my Japanese friends and students.

It is an amazing documentary and Japanophiles, foodies, wannabe Ramen chefs, aficionados’s of cooking shows will absolutely love Ramen Heads. I highly recommend it for you won’t be disappointed. I must warn you that it will leave you hungry and craving for a delicious bowl of Ramen.

Ramen Heads will be playing at various theatres:
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 on May 6 @ 10:45 a.m.
Hart House Theatre on May 7 @ 12:00 p.m. 

Tickets can be purchased here!

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