What a night! Was able to see Ramen Heads at its Austin Premier and was treated to a panel discussion with some ramen chefs and celebrity moderator.
The movie was exactly what I hoped to see.
Lots of close ups of noodles? Check.
Ramen prep? Check, check and CHECK.
Slow-mo pouring of thick tonkotsu broth? Check and check.
A look into the life of the obsessively driven chef behind all of this? Check.
A cross section into Japanese culture and food culture? Check.
Crazy commentary on the Japanese work ethic and iemoto system? Check.
Ramen Heads was over the top in many ways. Think Iron Chef, Ramen edition for two hours. Glorious cut scenes. Signs of devotion and discipline. Serious chef berating apprentices. Serious chef gazes at food product as symphonic and orchestral score plays and swells. It was great. It was indulgent. I need to see it again ASAP, because it was a huge amount of information in one film. I had a great time watching the comparisons to other renowned ramen chefs in Japan, from the bamboo noodle-kneader to the slap-bang shoyu ramen expert in Tsukiji Market. All these other chefs are presented in sharp contrast to Chef Tomita who is a complicated fellow. His devotion to his craft is evident in his daily ritual and operations but it is his personal style on his days off that raise the eyebrow. He has a unique style and pride for his fashion labels and their rarity. He proudly displays items like a necklace from Hermes and bracelets from designer labels.
A documentary almost never shows the whole story – usually it is edited to provide some sort of dramatic arc that builds and releases tension. Ramen Heads is no exception. Given the structure of a documentary added to the need for a translator, it is unlikely that the American non-Japanese speaking audience will catch any subtleties or subtext nor will we truly get the whole story. And that will have to do for now.
The panel was interesting – cooks from local shops were asked questions and were moderated by none other than celebrity moderator Mia Khalifa, who I was unaware of before a few weeks ago. Formerly an adult film star, she now makes her name by being exceptionally curvy while being exceptionally awkward and sort of approachable. She is impressive as a sports fan and knows how to cook. These traits don’t always lend themselves to great public speaking – she did mention to a room full of ramen-heads that she prefers pho over ramen(golf clap for honesty, golf clap for pho). She did well enough and her celebrity status definitely filled some seats. I was disappointed to hear a ramen shop cook tell us his favorite instant ramen was Maruchan, but hey, I am guessing if you make it for a living you aren’t craving noodles at 11:47 PM on a Tuesday. They threw out some gifts, my wife caught the gifts. My night was made.