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Cuckoo for Ramen: Films Explore Enthusiasts’ Passion for Bowls of The Good Stuff


Tomita, center, at a preview of the film in Tokyo with producer Arata Oshima, left, and director Koki Shigeno.

Katsuo Kokaji reports: Why are Japanese people hooked on ramen? A new documentary aiming to offer global audiences insight into the passion behind this inexpensive dish was screened at film festivals in seven countries prior to its Japan premiere late last month.

“Ramen Heads” was born when producer Arata Oshima watched “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” a documentary made by an American director that followed Jiro Ono, who runs a Tokyo sushi restaurant that has earned three Michelin stars.

“I found it frustrating that a non-Japanese director had to produce a film on Japanese food culture,” Oshima, 48, recalled. “However, high-end sushi [as featured in the film] isn’t something ordinary people can afford to enjoy. I believe ramen is part of authentic Japanese food culture.”

Koki Shigeno, 52, who directed “Ramen Heads,” has made TV programs featuring various chefs, but had never worked on a film for cinema. The director said he wanted the film to be entertaining for overseas audiences in particular.


© Netzgen
A scene from “Ramen Heads”

“Many customers line up for hours just to eat a bowl of ramen, while chefs pursue the best of the best, like seekers looking for the truth. I think these phenomena are very interesting,” Shigeno said. “I was curious to know how people overseas would feel about it.”

“Ramen Heads” focuses on Osamu Tomita, 39, the owner and chef of ramen shop Chukasoba Tomita — dubbed one of the best in Japan — in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture. The production team followed him for more than a year, and also visited a number of other eateries.

Shigeno found it surprising that Tomita dines at other ramen shops with his family on his days off. “It’s not for research. He just likes the noodles,” the director said. “I was amazed.”


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A scene from “Ramen Kuitee” (Lost in Ramen)

The documentary has been shown at film festivals in 10 cities in the Netherlands, the United States, Norway and four other countries. Shigeno and Tomita attended two of the events: the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto and the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain … (read more)

via The Japan News

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